East Orange School District works to prevent the ‘summer slide’

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — Summer vacation is officially here. Unfortunately for students, among the fun of summer, the “summer slide” phenomenon lurks. Studies show that children lose significant knowledge in reading and math during summer break — approximately two months of reading skills and 2.6 months of math computational skills — which tends to have a snowball effect as they experience subsequent skill loss each year, leading to decreased reading and math proficiency.

Yukima Vannoy, East Orange School District’s supervisor of secondary English language arts for grades 6-12, was motivated to change this for educational and personal reasons.

“Even though my mother was an avid reader, as a child I struggled with reading,” Vannoy said. “It took one teacher to build my self-confidence, one teacher to get me to love books. Books became a vehicle for me to escape and travel the world in my mind.”

As early as 2017, Vannoy along with Bridgett Green, supervisor of elementary English language arts, began working to combat the summer slide. The English language arts department’s “Top Readers with Frequency” initiative promoted reading across all content areas. 

“We initially wanted to celebrate students that were diving into and enjoying reading,” Vannoy said. “We also wanted to combat the summer slide and work to close the achievement gap. Improving reading impacts student success in all areas. It also reduces the need for teachers to retreach prerequisite content.”

According to Vannoy, advancing the initiative required patience and perseverance.

“The struggle was getting students committed to reading every day,” she said.

By 2019, Vannoy and Green hosted the “1st Summer Reading Launch Party,” which brought together students, their families and the community at large, advancing reading and celebrating students. 

As the initiative grew, the district adopted Learning Ally, an audiobook program that helped track student progress.

“The program allowed us to capture data. It was clear from the data that students were buying into reading,” Vannoy said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the program’s momentum. “We had to find other ways to celebrate students. So instead, we started a book club.” 

As New Jersey emerges from the height of the pandemic and to kick off summer vacation this year, Vannoy and Green hosted the “2nd Summer Reading Launch Party.” The event, themed “One World, Many Stories,” exposed students to some of the most read children’s books from around the world, including “I Am Malala,” by Malala Yousafzai, and the “Harry Potter” series, by J.K. Rowling. Student work samples honoring literacy were also on display.

More than 350 parents, caregivers, students, school administrators and community members came together at the Glenwood campus for the event.

Attendees enjoyed DJ music, a performance by the marching band from Whitney E. Houston Academy, local authors, vendors, food truck operators, free T-shirts, the fire and police departments, a barbecue, bouncy houses, games, prizes and an award presentation honoring top readers with gift certificates.

According to Vannoy and Green, “The event was strongly anchored by the efforts of Councilman Bergson Leneus. We would not have been able to do this without him. He was instrumental in the fundraising campaign and getting donors. With his help, we raised $20,000.” 

At the event, Leneus was called to the stage and awarded a trophy. 

“We don’t do it for recognition but for the love of children and our city,” Leneus said. “It’s my life’s passion. It touches my heart to receive this award. Thank you for the recognition.”

“I am hoping that a kid will find a book, hear my voice and connect with our message,” Vannoy said at the conclusion of the event.

Photos and Text Courtesy of Mirvetk Tonuzi