With summer having officially arrived this week, children are heading to camp, the beach, the pool, and in some cases, back to the classroom for the dreaded summer school. If it’s available, that is.
While some districts downsize, and even eliminate, summer school, other districts are reinventing it.
...at least a handful of places, such as Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, are also thinking anew about summer school as an experience that will prove far more engaging and meaningful for young people...The centerpiece of the effort in Pittsburgh this year is the new Summer Dreamers Academy, billed as a “camp” available for free to all rising 6th, 7th, and 8th graders...The five-week, all-day program that begins next month will feature a literacy curriculum in the mornings designed to be fun and engaging. In the afternoons, “campers” will have a wide choice of activities, from judo and kayaking to music theater and video-game design.
What strikes me is the delighted tone of the article, as if fun and engaging summer school is a new and innovative idea. I fondly remember my elementary summer school classes, Lo nearly half a century ago. I always eagerly anticipated summer school, a time when I would get to learn new things never offered during the regular school year. I studied archeology, sculpture, theater, special math topics, archery, sports clinics, photography, oil painting, all kinds of other great stuff, and for free. Of course, California was a solvent state then.
Now that I am grown up, I know that summer school served another important purpose. It kept my brain actively learning.
Research has long suggested that summer can take a heavy toll on student learning.
A report issued last week by the National Summer Learning Association, titled “A New Vision for Summer School,” says that since 1906, more than 40 empirical studies have found evidence of a pattern of “summer learning loss,” particularly for low-income youths.
One 2007 study, for instance, found that about two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between 9th graders of low and high socioeconomic standing in Baltimore public schools could be traced to what they learned, or failed to learn, over their childhood summers. ("Much of Learning Gap Blamed on Summer," July 18, 2007.)
Apparently educators have known since 1906 that “summer learning loss” not only persistently occurs but is more pronounced among children from less affluent families who cannot afford summer enrichment activities. Furthermore, this summer learning loss is estimated to account for around two-thirds of the achievement gap between more and less affluent students. It stands to reason that providing summer school to all could substantially close that gap.
Summer would also be a great time to pursue community-school corroboration. Instructors could be drawn from the community. Grants could fund the programs. And working parents would be thrilled, especially if they could apply summer childcare dollars to programs that enrich their children while keeping them off the street.