During the Summer
Summer slide affects all children,
but summer programs offer a solution
Interview availability with Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Center for Summer Learning at The Johns Hopkins University, about the problem of summer learning loss and tips for parents.
As the school year ends, parents should provide high-quality learning opportunities for children during the summer months.
All students fall almost 2.6 months behind in math skills over the summer, studies show. And for low-income children, the slide in reading is particularly harmful: They fall behind an average of two months in reading while their middle-income peers tend to make slight gains. By fifth grade, low-income children can be as much as 2-1/2 years behind in reading.
A recent study of Baltimore students by Johns Hopkins University researchers showed that 65 percent of the achievement gap between poor and affluent children can be explained by unequal summer learning experiences during the elementary school years.
"Summer should be fun, but parents shouldn't let it be a break from learning," says Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning. "High-quality summer learning opportunities keep children healthy, safe and on track in school."
Fairchild is available for interviews about the problem of summer slide and tips for parents, including what they should look for in a well-designed, high-quality summer program.
Founded in 1992, the Center for Summer Learning develops, evaluates and promotes summer learning programs that improve student achievement and support healthy youth development. Over the past 15 years, the center has grown from operating a local program serving 50 children to becoming the only national organization focused exclusively on summer learning. Last year, the center helped generate more than $12 million in public investment in summer learning programs that reached more than 25,000 children and youth. The center also trained more than 1,000 summer program providers in 20 states, serving a total of more than one million youth.
In addition to academic losses, children also may gain unhealthy weight over the summer. According to a recent Ohio State University study, minority children and children who already are overweight gain body mass index twice as fast when they are out of school during the summer. Engaging summer programs not only offer a chance to practice and learn new skills but also can provide nutritious meals and help keep kids active.
Summer programs can also have a positive impact on juvenile crime, support working families, teach skills needed for the workforce, keep kids safe, and provide much needed child care. Well-designed summer programs balance opportunities for learning, enrichment and recreation.
While research shows that remedial summer school often has little impact on student achievement, studies of high-quality summer programs that combine academics with enrichment demonstrate that these programs can have a powerful and lasting effect. Despite this research, an increasing number of schools continue to operate traditional summer school programs that typically offer very little enrichment. Nearly 5 million children — 10 percent of all public school students — attend summer school, typically remedial classes. The number of schools using federal funds for summer school increased from 15 to 41 percent from 1991 to 1998.
In addition, more than 11 million children attend summer camp, and the number of day camps has increased 90 percent over the last 20 years, according to the American Camp Association. While some camps offer learning opportunities, many don't address summer learning loss as a priority.
What should parents know? Children need comprehensive, holistic summer programs with both academic and non-academic enrichment activities.
Well-designed summer programs:
Fewer low-income children attend well-designed summer programs. "Wealthier children have greater access to programs that help them grow academically and developmentally over the summer," Fairchild said. "Low-income children don't have the same opportunities and often struggle to receive the educational services, healthy meals and adult supervision that they got during the school year. In summer, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer."
Yet even simple things make a difference. A study last year showed that low-income students given eight books to read over the summer made measurable gains in reading. Black and Latino students made the greatest improvement.
What's needed, Fairchild notes, is increased public and private investment in summer learning opportunities to address the educational and social challenges facing children in high-poverty neighborhoods. The Center for Summer Learning is leading a national campaign to generate $50 million in public investment for summer learning programs. The pending America COMPETES Act includes a program proposed by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., that would provide funding for summer scholarships. It would entitle students in grades K-3 a month of full-day summer instruction from high-quality summer program providers.
On July 12, the center is sponsoring Summer Learning Day so communities across the nation can celebrate the importance of high-quality summer learning opportunities in the lives of children and their families. Communities will host events that day to showcase programs and raise awareness about how summer programs send young people back to school ready to learn, support working families and keep children safe and healthy.
The mission of the Center for Summer Learning is to create high quality summer learning opportunities for all young people. The Center is committed to expanding summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth as a strategy for closing the achievement gap. Based at The Johns Hopkins University, the Center works to improve program availability and quality, build public support and influence public policy and funding. For more information, visit www.summerlearning.org/index.html .
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