smiling TIPS studentsResearch has shown that school children lose considerable reading and math skills during the summer recess and spend valuable school time in the fall re-acquiring proficiencies they had achieved in the previous school year. The Teachers in the Parks (TIPS) program addresses this issue by providing reading, math, and science classes in unconventional ways that help children of all abilities bridge the summer learning gap.

Teachers in the Parks was founded in 2004 when Matthew Hathaway, a third-grade teacher in the Exeter Township School District, began working with students in outdoor settings in an attempt to prevent the usual loss of learning over the summer. As the initiative grew in popularity, additional teachers joined the effort. The program has flourished and now operates under the auspices of the Exeter Community Education Foundation.

students and teacher in a parkTwenty-three teachers and 235 children in grades three to six participated in the program in 2014. Sessions ran twice a week for six weeks (the end of June through the beginning of August) for a total of 24 hours of instruction. Classes in reading, math, and science were conducted in kid-friendly environments, such as the community park, pool, and library.

T.I.P.S. Reading offers fluency and comprehension instruction for children at all reading levels. Students participate in activities focused on the Common Core standards in both fiction and nonfiction by playing reading games, acting out plays, and exploring engaging texts.

T.I.P.S. Math delivers a true grade-level transition program that combines required skills from the previous and upcoming school years. Students are prepared to start the new year with increased confidence in their math abilities.

T.I.P.S. Math Challenge provides students the same transition skills as the T.I.P.S. Math class but with a greater focus on problem solving and much deeper Common Core standards.

While budget cuts have forced many school districts to restrict, reduce, or even eliminate academic summer offerings for elementary school students, and since T.I.P.S.’s rapid growth attests to the facts that children enjoy it, parents like it, and educators value it, two pressing questions arose—could T.I.P.S. serve as a model program to be used by other districts and, if so, what would be needed to help them replicate it?

Teachers in the Parks participants and Senator Judy SchwankThe answer to the first question is certainly “Yes.” State Senator Judy Schwank enthusiastically agrees. “I think it’s an outstanding program. I’ve been … talking about how we can get this program replicated in other school districts, not only here in Berks County, but throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I think it’s that good that it should be used elsewhere,” she said.

Other districts looking to replicate the project would be in the market for an organized, comprehensive package of materials, including:

  • Published summer curriculum
  • Ready-to-print fundraising letters
  • Ready-made flyers, brochures, and registration forms
  • Apparel for students and staff
  • Professional development/consulting

TIPS teachersEnter the Wyomissing Foundation. With support from the Foundation, Teachers in the Parks is investing hundreds of hours in formalizing a curriculum and publishing a ready-made program that can be implemented in any district in a short, cost-effective amount of time.

students learning outsideThe T.I.P.S. program features a curriculum that is based on the Common Core and lessons that target specific skills from the end of the previous year and the start of the next, thus transitioning students from one grade level to the next. It also includes a fundraising model that makes it 100 percent cost neutral to the school district. In addition, the program package includes marketing materials, registration forms, and a component pertaining to professional development.

“Teachers in the Parks has created a system that we could readily duplicate in any school district. All it takes is a bunch of caring teachers reaching children wherever they are in their communities,” said Matthew Hathaway. The program’s goals for the next few years are to assist other school districts in Berks County in establishing and implementing the program in order to have a positive impact on an increasing number of students.

Reading Eagle articleRead “Exeter’s Teachers in the Parks program getting statewide attention”
on Reading Eagle’s website, or view the article in PDF form.

Check out coverage of the T.I.P.S. program at WFMZ-TV 69 News.

WFMA article