A literacy program funded by the Duke Endowment and offered at the Red Oak United Methodist Church this summer had a successful run, according to new data.

The literacy program, which was offered at Red Oak and eleven other United Methodist churches across the state this summer, is showing promising results in helping early readers avoid the learning loss that can happen over the long school break, according to a press release from Red Oak United Methodist Church.

“High quality summer reading and learning programs can prevent the ‘summer slide’ — and even give students a boost,” the Rev. David Joyner, senior pastor of Red Oak United Methodist Church, said in the release. “It’s exciting for our congregation to be able to offer this program and help make a difference in a child’s life.”

The Duke Endowment launched the literacy initiative in 2012 to help rural churches provide a summer-learning intervention for elementary school students in their communities. In 2019, the first summer Red Oak United Methodist participated, the program served 235 students across the state. Long-term plans include conducting a rigorous impact evaluation and potentially replicating the model to help struggling readers in rural areas across the state, the release said.

“Through its Rural Church program area, the Duke Endowment seeks to help North Carolina congregations fulfill their calling to their communities,” said Kristen Richardson-Frick, the program area’s associate director. “We’re pleased to support churches that want to embrace this special opportunity for impact.”

This past summer, evaluators used the Lexia RAPID Assessment to glean information about student reading and language abilities. The RAPID Assessment predicts the likelihood that students will reach grade-level reading success by the end of the school year, produces a profile of strengths and weaknesses in language and reading skills and measures changes in reading skills over time.

Aggregately, the church programs had a positive effect on student reading as measured by the RAPID Assessment. Students across all sites together made significant gains in raw scores for reading success probability, word reading, vocabulary pairs and following directions. According to survey results, there was also a positive effect on student reading behaviors, attitudes toward reading, intrinsic motivation and home literacy environment, the release said.

With funding from the endowment, each church recruits early elementary school students in need of literacy intervention. The program runs for six weeks for five days and is hosted in church buildings. Certified teachers provide reading instruction each morning, and enrichment opportunities are offered each afternoon.

The program also provides breakfast and lunch and engages parents or guardians through weekly workshops.

“We can see that this model has helped students improve their reading skills,” Richardson-Frick said in the release. “But just as exciting is the fact that students reported positive changes in their behaviors and attitudes about reading, and their parents reported stronger home literacy environments as a result of the program. These things will likely benefit children for years to come.”

Research shows that if students aren’t learning in the summer, they can lose ground academically, the release said. Consequences can be cumulative and long-lasting — and the gap is often harder to close once it opens.