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A majority of Forest Park District 91 students reported increased academic performance and self-confidence after attending the Power Scholars Academy last summer, according to a presentation by Tinisa Huff, assistant principal of Forest Park Middle School who heads the program. Parents whose children were enrolled also reported increased engagement with the district. 

“I even had some parents tell me they saw a difference in their children’s confidence level; you know they’re excited about school now,” Huff said at the meeting. “I had one teacher email me and say, ‘Hey, all these kids went to Power Scholars, their [test] data looks a lot better than it did last time.'” 

Power Scholars, a program designed to tackle summer learning loss and foster social and emotional growth, scheduled for its second summer run from June 17 to July 19 this year. It is produced and funded by D91, River Forest District 90 schools, the West Cook YMCA and Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL). 

For five weeks, D91 and D90 students, identified as academically at-risk, attend the program where they divide their days into the study of literacy and math, and then participate in STEM, dance, drumming and cooking activities. Every Friday they take field trips to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Brookfield Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry and elsewhere. They also have physical education every day.

Because students come from both River Forest and Forest Park, learners start out the day eating breakfast and playing team building games together, like keeping a balloon afloat, building towers of cups, watching videos and more. Organizers aim to enroll 120 students in kindergarten through fifth grade this year. Last year, 96 learners, kindergarten through fourth grade, attended the program — and 80 were from Forest Park. 

“I thought it was very important, since it was a new program and we had students coming from a new district, I wanted them to feel comfortable, like it was one big family. Not like, ‘Oh you’re from River Forest and you’re from Forest Park,'” Huff said. 

Scores for 31 Forest Park students — or 62 percent of participants — who attended the program last year indicated some improvement in either math or reading. Superintendent Louis Cavallo said that, during the program, officials used a different assessment to measure students’ academic needs than D91, which uses the FastBridge test. Both tests measure students’ understanding of the Common Core curriculum.

“So when you’re looking at the program, the spring of one year to the fall of the next and whether or not there’s any impact over the summer, that’s very unscientific, quite honestly, because there’s so many other factors that could influence that score,” he said. “Plus I also want to point out that that test in the spring and the test in the fall are measuring two different things. So I just want to make that clear, overall from the fall to the spring, we had more of our kids show improvement.” 

Fourteen students — or 28 percent — indicated no change. 

“Keep in mind that most students lose two months” over the summer, Cavallo said at the meeting. 

Board member Christina Ricordati added: “There’s also a range for those categories. You might have been way at the bottom of some risk, and now you’re at the top of some risk, but you’re still at that same category.”  

Eight students indicated an increase in academic risk. 

“It could have been a number of things. They could have been tardy; you can come in at 10 a.m. and missed all the reading instruction; they could take the test and not have felt well that day, who knows?” Huff said. 

Y USA will be presenting the districts with an award for their administration of the program sometime over the summer. Cavallo said this is the first time two school districts have collaborated under the program before, and other districts are following their lead and now partnering to administer the program. 

“I’m glad to see it was a success. I think we’ll build on that in the coming year,” board member Eric Connor said at the meeting. “I think it’s a great program.”  

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com