Stopping the Summer Slide with Energy Express
Under the leadership of the West Virginia University Extension 4-H Youth Development, Energy Express is a research based summer reading and nutrition program for children living in rural and low-income West Virginia. AmeriCorps has been Energy Express’s largest funder and source of volunteers since 1995. According to one of its youth participants, Energy Express is “awesome and fun.”
We know that it is poor children who are most affected by the typical “summer slide.” A study by Alexander, Entwisle and Olsen (2007) found that the disparate achievement between high- and low- income elementary school children was due almost entirely to summer. In fact, two-thirds of the achievement gap can be traced to summer.
Poor children also lose ground nutritionally during the summer and many have few opportunities for summer activities. Given the large number of poor children living in rural West Virginia communities, Energy Express program founder, Dr. Ruthellen Phillips knew that the need for summer programming was evident. Energy Express has combined reading through a print rich environment, small groups, family style meals, and family and community involvement to successfully address the summer slide challenge.
According to Carol Rasco, Executive Director of Reading is Fundamental, Energy Express is lauded as the country’s only statewide reading-focused summer learning program. Since 1994, Energy Express children (grades 1-6) spend their summer engaged in variety of reading activities, receive books to take home and keep, and enjoy two family style meals daily which meet 58% of their daily nutritional needs. The result is that 80% of the children maintain or increase their reading scores as assessed by the Woodcock Johnson test of Reading Ability.
But this program has positive outcomes that reach beyond the children themselves. One AmeriCorps Member stated that “AmeriCorps has been an experience that I will never forget. It allowed me to have a greater understanding of the needs of my community. It also allowed me to achieve a better relationship with my community. My life has unexpectedly changed for the better through my experience with AmeriCorps in the Energy Express program.” A parent of a ten year old participant indicated that “I like the community feel of Energy Express. And I like that my daughter has learned about community needs and been exposed to community service through the children’s community service project.” According to West Virginia's First Lady Gayle Manchin, "It is my personal feeling that Energy Express is not only supporting the academic achievement and nutritional well-being of underprivileged children, it is also providing money for college for many West Virginians."