Springboard takes a big leap

MICHAEL HINKELMAN / DAILY NEWS STAFF Alejandro Gac-Artigas hopes his literacy startup's contract with the school district will help eliminate young students' "summer slide."
MICHAEL HINKELMAN / DAILY NEWS STAFF Alejandro Gac-Artigas hopes his literacy startup's contract with the school district will help eliminate young students' "summer slide."
Posted: June 18, 2013

WHEN I INTRODUCED you to Alejandro Gac-Artigas in March, the former charter-school first-grade teacher hoped to take his innovative summer-reading program to a bigger stage. Now, he has done so.

Gac-Artigas, 24, of Southwest Center City, founded the nonprofit Springboard Collaborative to close the literacy gap among low-income K-3 pupils in Philadelphia public schools. As a teacher, he noticed that reading levels fell in summer when "his kids" weren't in school.

The Springboard business model combines targeted student instruction with parental training and learning bonuses (books, supplies) given to families in proportion to the reading gains made.

A 2011 pilot program aided 42 low-income K-3 pupils in a Kensington charter school and helped turn a "summer slide" into a three-month reading gain.

Then, Gac-Artigas raised more than $200,000 from foundations and others to expand the program last summer to four charter schools. The program enrolled 340 K-3 kids and replicated the gains achieved in the pilot.

But Gac-Artigas wanted to help more kids.

The problem was that 75 percent of Philadelphia public-school children - including 50,000 in K-3 - are enrolled in district schools, and they were off-limits to innovative startups like Springboard. (According to a national education report, only 13 percent of district fourth-graders are "proficient" in reading and 57 percent are at "basic.")

Earlier this year, Gac-Artigas began talking with district officials about doing a test run of his summer-reading program in a few district schools.

On May 15, the School Reform Commission approved a $112,800 agreement between Springboard and the district to provide a summer-reading program over the next year.

A door that once was closed is open. Now, Springboard is gearing up to bring its summer-reading model to four district schools in North Philadelphia that will serve 480 mostly K-3 pupils, at least half of whom will be arriving from three recently closed district schools.

Gac-Artigas said his goal is to replicate the three-month reading gain he achieved last summer in the four charter schools.

But this summer also will be different in another respect.

"Typically, our focus is blinders-on reading gains and there's kind of a dual focus we'll be pursuing with the district schools," he said. "The district would also like us to help facilitate the transition by building community between the kids already in the receiving schools and the kids that will be coming from the closing schools."

If Springboard succeeds on all fronts, Gac-Artigas said, he hopes the company "can grow" its relationship with the district and stop the summer slide.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

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