Yarmouth teacher makes it her business to fight 'summer slide'

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YARMOUTH — For parents with busy schedules, who balance days in the office and days spent outside with family, it can be hard to make sure that kids aren’t regressing in their education during the summer.

Enter Kate Douglas Parkin, a teacher on a mission to beat “summer slide.”

After Parkin, a fourth-grade teacher at Yarmouth Elementary School, noticed that kids don’t always have time for learning over the summer, she created a company that helps them continue their education when school isn’t in session.

Through Sparking Minds, Parkin will be tutoring children one hour a week for eight weeks in the subject areas where they need most help.

“Of course kids should have time to enjoy summer, but at the same time, especially kids who are struggling, they can’t afford to take time off for two months,” Parkin said.

Parkin, a new mom herself, said she understands that summers are busy for both parents and kids, making it hard to keep learning a priority. With Sparking Minds, Parkin works with the families to create a schedule that works for them.

A goal of Sparking Minds, beyond making sure that children are continuing to learn in the summer, is to make sure they enjoy learning. Parkin works with children to customize their learning experience and make it engaging. Instead of just printing off worksheets, Parkin uses games, activities and projects to enhance the learning experience.

“I’m trying to match their academic needs with their interests,” Parkin said.

She said she hopes children will enjoy being tutored over the summer.

“It doesn’t feel like a slog,” Parkin said of what she hopes kids will think. “It doesn’t feel like something mom and dad are making me do, or like a punishment.”

Sparking Minds is open to kids in grades 3 through 10 and there are three different tutoring packages to choose from. The first is a basic package used to maintain a child’s previous grade level. This includes eight hours of any subject or of multiple subjects, depending on where the child needs help.

The second package is a reading package where Parkin will work with the child to design week-by-week reading goals. Parkin said she will also make sure children are reading “just right,” meaning they’re not reading above or below their reading level.

Parkin said she strongly believes in having children interested in reading, but she knows it can be a struggle for parents.

“Sometimes parents don’t know how to engage kids in reading,” Parkin said.

To make reading more fun for kids, the reading package has the option to be done with a friend or sibling at the same reading level. The cost is split between the two children, and they work on their reading goals together.

“Reading is a social activity,” Parkin said. “We want to talk about stories and how they affect us. Kids need to be talking about and understanding what they’re reading.”

The third package is an enrichment program for kids who aren’t struggling with school and who just love to learn. Parkin described this as a “mini course” that is targeted towards the child’s interests. The child will pick a topic, such as Greek mythology or the solar system, will spend eight weeks learning about it, and will end with a project. The child will then prepare a presentation to be shown to family and friends.

Because Sparking Minds wants to be flexible for families, Parkin will meet with children wherever works best for them, as long as it’s within 10 miles of Yarmouth. They can meet in the child’s home or in any public space. Also, Parkin is flexible with vacation schedules and says children can do an extra hour one week to make up time, as long as they reach eight hours by the end of the summer.

Parkin said the learning process goes beyond the time she spends with children, through engaging homework activities that she creates.

“Even though the package is eight hours with me, there’s still learning that goes on between sessions,” she said.

For now, Parkin is the only person behind Sparking Minds, but she said she hopes to get more teachers involved as time goes on. She said she wants to find teachers who are specialized in different subject areas. Mainly, she said, she hopes to create a local business parents and kids can rely on.

“It’d be great for parents in the Yarmouth area to know they can make one phone call, or click on one website, and know they’re connected with a trusted teacher,” Parkin said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements


Kate Parkin, right, with one of her Sparking Minds students, Yarmouth fifth-grader Piper Priddy.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.