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Summer Scholars Collaborative: Putting out a different kind of fire

Posted Aug. 6, 2019

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Capt. Hackley talks with a child
Capt. William T. Hackley visits with one of the students in the trial program at Cobb Park.

Responding to crisis is in a firefighter’s DNA. Not every crisis is built the same.

There’s a critical need in Fort Worth — and around the country — in the space of early childhood literacy and preventing learning loss over the summer. Developing strategies and collecting data to create system change is an ongoing process that requires the cooperation of community partners, school districts, government agencies and beyond.

And while those processes are well underway in Fort Worth, boots on the ground are just as important. At the Valley at Cobb Park apartments in the Morningside area of east Fort Worth, those boots belong to the Fort Worth Fire Department.

Under the direction of Capt. William T. Hackley in the Community Risk Reduction unit, the Fire Department launched a trial six-week program at Cobb Park, a low-income complex feeding primarily into Fort Worth ISD’s Edward J. Briscoe Elementary.

Cobb Park was part of the City of Fort Worth’s larger 100X25 initiative, which included numerous summer programs that reached thousands of kids at community centers and other facilities, such as museums, across the city. 100X25 is also part of Read Fort Worth’s Summer Scholars Collaborative, 12 programs at more than 60 sites serving more than 3,000 kids. Every program was embedded with a purposeful literacy component designed to help prevent “summer slide,” the loss of literacy levels between school years.

The city is determined to be a “game changer” in addressing literacy as related to grade-level reading. With access to so many children already in summer programs, the approach was adopted to integrate intentional reading instruction into existing programming, especially summer programs.

The number of kids reached at Cobb Park was small compared to many of the city’s other programs. The impact, though, proved enormous.

“It absolutely made a difference,” Hackley said.

The Cobb Park program reached nearly 30 students, with nine showing up every day. Off-duty fire personnel and family members volunteered time to support the program, providing a structured routine that Hackley felt the kids appreciated.

Each day started with the students setting up the classroom by staging books and learning resources in designated areas. The kids were required to stand up and introduce themselves by name, age, grade and future occupation, which helped build confidence and communication skills.

The students were then put into smaller, more manageable groups to read age-appropriate books. Games and activities followed. For example, younger kids might trace the alphabet and color or write on the sidewalk with water-soluble chalk. Older participants could be playing chess and more advanced games. The day ended with lunch provided by the program.

Read Fort Worth Literacy Support Specialist Stephanie Lukat used the learning resources and materials already in place to provide targeted instruction, working alongside the volunteers to share teaching approaches. Lukat employed a variety of instructional techniques that gained and maintained the interest of participants, fostering an environment conducive with the goals of the program.

“We attempted to teach and reinforce kindness, teamwork, time management, respect for others, good manners and the importance of reading,” Hackley said.

Hackley became aware of the program during a presentation by the city’s Director of Educational Strategies Gleniece Robinson and Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington. The 2019 trial run established best practices for 2020. Some of the suggestions for next year, based on a final report, include more parental participation, a larger facility with multiple rooms, scheduled field trips and guest speakers, and projects such as arts and crafts.

As much as the students accomplished during their six weeks at the Cobb Park program, the FWFD staff came away with a new appreciation of how they can make a difference. They’re not strangers to impacting lives. This summer, however, provided a profound twist.

“The firefighters learned patience, patience, patience,” Hackley said. “They also learned how much time spent with a child matters.”

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Residential Board of Adjustment Work Session: 12:30 p.m. Dec. 18, 2019; City Council Conference Room 290, 2nd Floor, City Hall, 200 Texas St.
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Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone Number Seven (North Tarrant Parkway TIF): 3 p.m. Dec. 18, 2019; City COuncil Conference Room 290, 2nd Floor, City Hall, 200 Texas St.
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Fort Worth Housing Solutions Board of Commissioners Regular Meeting: 5 p.m. Dec. 19, 2019; Fort Worth Housing Administrative Office Board Room, 1201 East 13th St.
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