With a “let’s do it” culture, Bellwood Elementary is avoiding the summer slide

With two weeks remaining in the school year, students and parents are looking forward to the summer break; teachers are looking forward to the break as well,  while also thinking about their students and what is known as the “summer slide.”

According to Amy Bartilotti, Communities In Schools Site Coordinator at Bellwood Elementary School, “Each summer, children without access to literacy related advantages, books, vocabulary rich activities and opportunities,  lose at least two months of instructional growth which amounts for up to two and a half years after the end of growth by the end of fifth grade.  All children, whether from low, middle or upper income families, may fall victim to the “summer slide” if not provided with summer reading opportunities.”

With a school culture of “let’s do it” attitude, Bellwood’s teachers and administrators, in addition to partnering with Chesterfield County Public Schools  and the Chesterfield County Public Library system, have developed a comprehensive reading program that will provide literacy-rich activities to all students and families at Bellwood during the summer months.

Bartilotte said all students  at Bellwood and their families are invited to be part of the summer reading program to some degree with more targeted interventions and opportunities offered to students demonstrating the greatest need. Every student is encouraged to read or be read to everyday for 20 minutes.

For an early kick-off event, families were invited to a visit to the Chester Library a couple of weeks ago.  Children and their families boarded a school bus for the evening event  and headed to the Chester Library to obtain a library card,  if they did not have one, and check-out  books. During the same event, donation boxes for a book collection were dropped off at business locations. The books will be used for their book mobile and books-in-the-mail program.

Once school is out for the summer, every two weeks, Bellwood will have family library nights.  The library and school will be open throughout the summer for family check-out (they will have an adult section during summer months) where families can check out books and educational games.  In addition to check-out opportunities, different activities are planned to engage families such as game night, family field day and art projects.  These nights will be manned by staff members who are volunteering time throughout the summer break.

Also, bi-weekly, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Kristal Zink, reading specialist at Bellwood, and Bartilotte will be driving to four neighborhoods  in the school district off Jefferson Davis Highway bringing books and educational games  for check-out from the newly created Bulldog Book Mobile.  By targeting these specific areas, the mobile will be providing checkout opportunities to over one hundred and twenty-five of their students, the majority being students who live in homes in which English is not the primary language and families that may not be able to attend the family check-out night at the school.  Bartilotte and Zink are working to ensure that their emerging readers have access to books that are bi-lingual, being written in English and Spanish so that their parents can read with them. “ Fletcher Kelly and Shoosmith Brothers/Virginia Waste Services, have been very supportive of our school and gave us $1,000 for a trailer that will become the Bulldog Book Mobile,” said Bartilotte. Bartilotte will use her jeep and plans to dress it up with magnetic signage to spur excitement when the two pull into the neighborhoods.

Zink also helped create the summer reading program last year but was not involved due to pregnancy.  She is all in this summer.

“I am very excited about the summer reading program this year.  We’ve never done anything like this- book mobile and mail-a-book/bag program,” she said. “Almost every student at Bellwood will have access to books this summer, whether it be through summer school, the book mobile, the mail-a-book program, a bag of books sent home on the last day of school, and library nights at Bellwood.  We’ve never reached to this many kids over the summer as we will be doing this year.  Some other schools in the county have done similar programs, and they have seen growth in reading.  The summer reading slide is the worst for our population, so I feel very confident that we will defeat it this year.”

For their Books-in-the-Mail program, staff members have  identified one-hundred students who would benefit from a continued relationship through the summer with a staff member and/or be benefitted by access to self-selected literature.  Teachers  will conference with the student prior to the end of the school year and select five books that the students would enjoy at their reading level and then mail one of the books to them every two weeks with notes of encouragement.  According to Bartilotte, data suggests that students participating in this program lose no ground in reading achievement over the summer.

Bellwood Principal, Jennifer Rudd, is very supportive of her staff and their “let’s do it” attitude and thrilled with the summer slide line-up. “I am super excited about the program this year and loved the program last year,” she said. “I love the focus on literacy and children and families having access to books- last summer’s family library nights not only served to strengthen family-focused literacy, but were instrumental in creating a school that truly is the center of the community.  I think that the addition of the Bulldog Bookmobile will bring an even increased access to our families as transportation is limited for many of them.”

Each spring, the testing window in elementary school lasts three weeks with all students in grades 3-5 having to take the Reading SOL.  In the past three years, Bellwood has received national awards (Title I Distinguished School, National High-Flying School, Panasonic National School Change Award) due to the successes experienced by their  students due largely to the performance on state mandated testing.  Last year, the Department of Education re-vamped the reading tests and scores dropped significantly - from 92 percent in 2010-2011, 94 percent in 2011-2012 to 67 percent in spring of 2013.  Bartilotte said the new test is much more rigorous, utilizing higher-level questioning and sophisticated vocabulary which is significantly more difficult for children who are financially under-resourced and English Language Learners.  

The student population at Bellwood Elementary is around five-hundred; 81 percent of their students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. With a transitory rate of 40 percent, they had a 96 percent average daily attendance rate.

Bartilotte and Zink and the staff at Bellwood Elementary are asking the community to help their students slide into success this summer and drop new and gently used books, for children and adults, into the book drop locations presently located at She Chester, Ironbridge Sports Park, CiCi’s in Chester and the Village News office. The program is also in need of monetary donations for the Books-in-the-Mail program.  “We need mailers and postage,” said Bartilotte.  “If you are interested in making a donation, drop your information into one of the book drop boxes and we will get in touch with you.”  With 100 students, each receiving five books each in the mail, postage will add up.  For more information contact Bartilotte at Amelia_Bartilotte@ccpsnet.net.

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