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Ally Esser reads while sitting in the camping-themed reading area June 6, 2019, at the Boys & Girls Club in Janesville.

JANESVILLE

Imagine taking three months off from work.

OK, stop imagining that because nobody’s going to let you do that.

But if you could do it, think about how difficult it would be to return. You’ve have to adjust your schedule, relearn how to deal with the annoying coworker, and while everybody else was moving forward, it would be some time before you could catch up.

That’s what happens every summer to kids. It’s called summer slide, and teachers have to deal with it every fall.

Research shows it hits kids from low-income families much harder because they can’t afford extras such as summer camp or travel.

Three local institutions are working to level the playing field for kids: The Janesville School District, Hedberg Public Library and the Boys & Girls Club of Janesville.

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9-year-old Mollie Mayfield, right, reads ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ under a tent June 6, 2019, at the Boys & Girls Club in Janesville.

A new opportunityThe Boys & Girls Club of Janesville has always had an all-day summer camp, but it cost $70 a week. While that’s considered reasonable by both camp and day-care standards, not all parents could afford it.

But the club recently became a certified day care center for school age children, according to club Executive Director Sara Stinski.

“The state licenser was just here, and we’ll be getting our provider number soon,” Stinski said.

That “provider number” is crucial. It’s what parents need for Wisconsin Shares, a state program that pays for part or all of a low-income family’s child care. To qualify, a family’s income must be equal to or less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of two, 185 percent of the poverty level is $31,284 a year. For a family of four, 185 percent of the federal poverty level is $47,638.

Summer camp at the Boys & Girls Club runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Each day includes traditional camp activities such as sports, crafts and field trips. Learning also is part of the day. The club’s curriculum, Summer Brain Gain, was designed to address the learning loss difference between middle- and lower-class kids.

“During summer, most youth lose about two months’ worth of math skills. Low-income youth also lose more than two months’ worth of reading skills, while their middle-class peers make slight gains,” according to the Boys & Girls Club of America national website.

The curriculum is designed so kids don’t realize they are being taught.

It’s lots of hands-on activities, friendly competition and project-based learning, Stinski said.

Summer camp at the Boys & Girls Club gives students the chance to reinforce the social skills they’ll need to get along in school.

“We’re teaching little humans to be kind to each other,” Stinski said.

Traditional choices

Janesville School District officials acknowledge that it would be cheaper to consolidate all of the district’s summer school courses into a few schools.

But by offering summer school in all of the elementary schools, they can reach more children.

“We like to offer summer school close to students’ homes. That way, all students have access,” said Paul Stengel, director of the Janesville Summer School Program.

The schools offer courses such as kick-off to kindergarten and getting ready for first grade to help students get into school routines.

For older elementary school kids, the majority of summer school classes give students the chance to have fun with a subject through project-based learning. Or, students will use their reading, math and team-building skills to do a community service project.

“It really gives kids the ability to practice what they learned in a more authentic setting and without the pressure,” Stengel said.

In addition, summer school gives students a “chance to engage with their peers” and get some physical activity.

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Lucius Jackson, 9, plays with blocks June 6, 2019, at the Boys & Girls Club in Janesville.

Hedberg Public Library

Every year, the Hedberg Public Library hosts a free summer reading program.

This year’s theme is “A Universe of Stories,” said Julie Westby, children’s librarian.

Like all other library programs, a A Universe of Stories is free. This summer’s program also includes community engagement. “Missions” include going to the Janesville Farmers Market or going to see the Rock Aqua Jays.

“We can learn from books, but we can also learn so much from each other,” Westby said.

Westby wanted to remind kids and their families that reading isn’t just about checking out books from the library. Kids and families can listen to audiobooks or use their e-readers.

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