Boys Club in Flushing addresses summer decline in youth literacy

By Tom Momberg

The Boys Club of New York, 133-01 41st Road in Flushing, is spending the summer working with children who have been struggling with reading, fighting what many educators call the “summer slide.”

The “summer slide” refers to the learning loss experienced by youth when they do not engage in educational activity during the summer.

And the phenomenon disproportionately affects youth from lower income families, losing the equivalent of two months of the prior year’s literacy achievement when not engaged in any reading activity over the summer, according to finding by the Summer Learning Association.

But there are several programs available to help increase children’s access to books and summer learning, ensuring students who are already struggling with literacy do not fall any further behind.

The Boys Club offers its six-week Summer Superheroes Program for intensive literacy support to first through fourth grade boys, who they call explorers. At the same time, the program makes teenagers beholden to some responsibility during summer vacation that can otherwise cause them to lose focus, by making them mentors to those younger kids who struggle with reading, writing and phonetics.

“If you are in education, we are always talking about that summer learning loss that happens, especially with lower income populations,” said Education Director Stephanie Hakes. “We make this really more of an intensive program, so they can get real quality instruction. This is the third year, and we’ve actually made some great gains.”

The Boys Club has estimated the Superheroes program resulted in average reading level growth equivalent to 0.23 of a school year in 2014, by providing that additional instruction time.

“Something that works very well with this program, is that it is not summer school,” Flushing Boys Club Communications Director Helen Frank said. “These kids aren’t being penalized. It’s like coming for camp all week long, and reading is just like something special they do in the middle of their camp day.”

There is a plural meaning behind the name of the program: The Explorers are encouraged to read literature they are interested in, like stories based off their favorite characters or superheroes. And, by being given a teenage mentor, each explorer is given their own role model, their own superhero that gets them thinking “reading is cool,” Hakes said.

The Explorers are assessed and given books on their letter-based reading level: “A” being equivalent to Kindergarten level and “Z” being equivalent to an eighth grade level.

At a recent session, Explorer Louis Lopez, 7, said he is spending his first summer in the Boys Club program, and loves that it is not as structured or as strict as school. Plus, his instructors said his reading comprehension has been improving.

“We do a lot of fun stuff,” Lopez said. “I also have to do a lot of reading. I’m currently reading level N books, but officially I’m a level F … I do like reading a little more now, especially comic books, because the characters actually talk and do stuff. There’s dialogue, but books in school can be boring.”

With a little additional encouragement at home, Lopez said his mom promised him a big surprise when he can reach a developmental reading assessment level Z.

Nick Robinson, 19, is one of the program mentors, and has been since the Boys Club started the program in 2013. He just finished his freshman year studying psychology at SUNY Geneseo, but returned for one more year helping out the young Explorers.

“I love seeing these kids improve,” Robinson said. “Sometimes they struggle with words, and when I show them the same words later on, you can tell they are getting it and I feel like I am actually helping them.”

Robinson has been a member of the Boys Club for much of his teenage life. Through his work as a mentor, he said he came to realize he wants to continue to work with kids. After completing a medical tract in college, he said he wants to become a pediatrician.

The Boys Club also works with teenagers in professional development and resume building. Membership to the club for any age is $5 a year. The summer camp programs are an additional $25, but Summer Superheroes is free. Frank said money never stands in the way of any boy or young man that wants to join and would encourage any family to apply.

A nonprofit organization, the Boys Club subsists mostly on private contributions and investment returns, not on program or membership dues. The organization said 80 percent of every dollar it raises goes directly into programming. Visit www.bcny.org for more information.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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