Published On: Sun, Jun 23rd, 2019

More Needs to Be Done Now to Stem Summer Learning Loss

C. Ron Allen

Boca Raton, FL – When asked why he had not completed his assignment to research a topic for the following day, one boy in the STEAM-focused summer camp flatly responded, “This is summer camp, not school and I don’t like to read.”

What an indictment!

Summer is here, school is out and the American ideal of lazy summers filled with fun has an unintended consequence: “summer slide, summer setback, summer learning loss or summer brain drain,” the term that refers to children losing academic skills during the summertime, when they are most often out of practice.

It is no secret that summertime is one of the most critical periods for elementary and secondary students. For many, it signifies ball games, pools, family vacations, and that longed-for break from schoolwork. But it is one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of underachievement in our schools.

Scholastic Corporation, an education and media company that publishes books and educational materials for schools, teachers, parents, and children, commissioned a study of 2,758 students earlier this year, which showed that 32 percent of kids ages 15-17 said they do not read any books over the summer, compared to 22 percent in 2016.

While summer slide impacts all students, studies show significant summer learning loss gets worse or better depending on the grade level, the subject, the socioeconomic status of the students’ families, and any number of other factors.

Knowing that students who are not engaged in learning over the summer lose skills in math, reading and writing, a handful of local organizations are taking steps to ensure that learning continues.

Our local librarians, education advocates and summer camp organizers know that the odds of many students picking up a book while out of school for 10 weeks are slim to none. So, they are offering reading and other interactive programs for children to try new things, participate in crafts and activities as well as allow them to socially interact with their peers.

These programs are a good band aid. But more needs to be done.

I have been hearing about efforts to put more books into the hands of kids for years but somehow, it does not seem to be working. Or if it is, the impact is unsatisfactory. Let me also add that this problem of summer learning loss has been of interest to education researchers dating back as far as 1906.

The time is come for our thought leaders to create strategies other than what is being used now.

With all the advances in educational technology such as animated e-books, interactive whiteboards, and mobile literacy apps, summer learning loss should not be an issue that we are still trying to address.

We cannot and should no longer rely on our educators to address learning during the summer.

After all, they are burned out from nine months of working in the classrooms.

It will take community organizations dedicated to youth growth and development, not those who see it as a job, to bring about plausible change. These organizations would need to form partnerships with our school district to leverage resources for the summer.

Above all, the learning during those 10 weeks must be fun. There needs to be blended academic learning with hands-on or recreational activities, professionalizing summer school staff, and forming partnerships with community organizations to leverage resources.

Also, parents can help by asking your child’s teachers about areas where your child could use a little extra attention over the summer, and ask about recommended summer reading to prepare for class this coming fall.

Once again, we need to diversify our approach to learning so that it is fun. In fairness to our children, after being cooped up in a building for nine months, they need to be outdoors or in environments that promote learning during the summer.

One example is my organization, KOP Mentoring Network, a local nonprofit, which has been using non-traditional approaches to make learning fun.

This summer, the organization is using professionals and retired educators and law enforcement personnel to expose the campers to life through field trips and guest speakers. Over the last three weeks, they spent a day at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, the Kennedy Space Center and the Apple Store.

They also learned how to program and fly drones, learned about the stock market, toured four radio stations and observed a robot perform a surgery in a local hospital.

Campers are required to do journals daily.

Let me add that a lack of basic literacy skills is linked with academic failure, delinquency, low productivity, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, unemployment and welfare dependency.

Pair these facts with the reality that low-income students often do not even have access to and it becomes clear how children from disadvantaged families start a new school with reading scores 30 percent lower than students with steady access to books.

Furthermore, each fall, teachers spend an average of four to six weeks re-teaching last year’s content that students forgot over summer break.

C.Ron Allen can be reached at [email protected] or 561-665-0151.

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