Brenden Carol, Teen Board Member

Date: January 28, 2014 Author: spfs_admin Categories: Testimonials

Former Teen Board Member Brenden Carol

SPFS Paper Mache Masks Emerson ScholarsI have spent two years trying to understand why students across Charlotte perform so differently on state-wide tests.   We use the same curriculum and have the same teachers.  Many of Charlotte’s schools have similar racial composition.  Yet performance diverges widely.  Playing a role in helping to address this issue locally has been an intellectual and emotion journey for me.  Fortunately, there are proven ways we can help.

This issue is not about race or ethnicity.  It turns out that performance is far more related to family income and, in particular, the ability of students to avoid “summer learning loss.”   The concept is surprisingly simple:  students from lower income families lose knowledge during the summer when out of school, because parents are less available to read with them or to take them to stimulating cultural events and activities. The students simply forget two months of school and start the next school year behind more affluent students, who have attended camps and regularly read over the summer.  The students essentially never catch up, which starts an ugly downward spiral in performance and attitude towards learning.  Summer learning loss is rarely experienced in middle and upper income students.

In 2010, eight Shalom Park agencies helped established the Shalom Park Freedom School.   Freedom Schools, the brainchild of the Children’s Defense Fund, provide a six-week summer program focusing on maintenance of reading skills for kids from low income families. I was selected to serve on the Shalom Park Freedom School Teen Board to help plan the new school and then spent my summer working there.

The experience was perhaps the most moving of my life.  I was an assistant teacher, helping in the class room and leading enrichment activities. We worked one-on-one with students on reading, art work and educational games. It was amazing to see the impact from this extra work – I could literally see the kids grow, both in their ability to read and in their confidence in themselves. I worked with one withdrawn eight-year old girl.  At first, she refused to read aloud. She knew how to read, but just needed attention and practice. My favorite moment was when she got up and confidently read an entire page out loud to the class.  We later learned that these kids returned to school excited about learning and showing off their new skills.

When I was a high school junior, I chose “summer reading loss” as the topic for a research paper.  I learned that in 2007, then-Senator Obama introduced legislation to provide $100 million to fund summer reading programs, but the bill did not pass. Without federal funding, programs like the Freedom School must rely on private donations from communities least able to provide them.   Given the proven benefits from educating children most at risk, I argued that Charlotte should pay to expand the Freedom Schools and programs like it. During the year, I also continued to be involved by tutoring low performing students at a local middle school.

During my senior year in high school I advocated more broadly and loudly for funding.  During the Democratic National Convention, I spoke about funding with Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.  I also spoke briefly with the Michelle Rhee, DC School Superintendent and education reformer, and even got one minute with US Secretary of Education, Arnie Dunkin, standing in line at the Convention.  I then spoke with our school Superintendent Heath Morrison and addressed the Board of Education to request public funding for these programs.

Summer reading loss is a problem with a proven solution.  I have seen it work.  I plan to continue my involvement by becoming a teacher at a local Freedom School.