As a student and a teacher, I always reveled in long, lazy summers. In fact, I still think of time in terms of school years, not calendar years. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that it’s time we did away with the anachronism that is summer vacation and adopted year-round school (and it’s not because I’ve been home with four kids for the past six weeks).
When my parents smoked in the early seventies, they were largely unaware of the harm they were doing to their bodies. By the end of the decade, armed with fresh research, they quit. Well, it turns out that summer vacation is harming our kids and it’s time to do something about it.
Studies show that all children lose skills gained during the previous school year, on average one month lost for every month of summer, but for kids who are not academically engaged during the summer the loss is even more severe. By the time students reach ninth grade, studies show that two-thirds of the academic achievement gap between peers can be attributed to the compounded learning loss that occurs during the summer months of the elementary school years.
When I taught high school English I was constantly reminded of the reading discrepancies amongst my freshmen college prep students. Some read at college levels and others struggled to read at a second-grade level. Those differences certainly weren’t as broad when those kids were still in first grade.
A friend of mine who works in the Oakland public school system said many of her fourth-grade students were sad to be out of school this year because they had nothing to do and nowhere to go this summer. For 10 weeks, the television may be their only teacher and companion.
Clearly, Oakland is not El Dorado Hills. I know that kids in our community get enrichment during the summer; they travel, go to camps and spend time engaging with adults who offer sustained learning opportunities, sometimes simply just by being there and engaging them. In fact, the level of parental involvement in El Dorado Hills is one of my favorite things about living here. But El Dorado Hills is the exception, not the rule, and even here the kids experience learning loss over the long summer break.
Jim Shoemake, principal at Casa Roble High School in Orangevale (and El Dorado Hills resident), fondly remembers the summers of his own childhood when he’d play all day, free to be creative from the constraints of school. “Kids today can’t hop on their bikes and safely ride to the neighborhood creek or ice cream store and stay out all day like we used to,” he said. Even so, he added, “Teachers spend the first quarter of the school year just making up what was lost since the end of the previous year.” Shoemake believes a 8:2 ratio would be the perfect balance, a cycle of eight weeks of school and then two weeks off. “Push kids hard for eight weeks and then let them be kids for two weeks,” he said.
I know that year-round school brings its own set of challenges. It was tried here in the Buckeye Union School District, but eventually dropped. For our children, who are eventually going to graduate into a more competitive economic environment than any of us have faced, we ought to figure out why it didn’t work and fix it. We owe them.
Until then, I’ve thought of some resources we can remind parents of until school resumes:
• Take advantage of local summer programs. Churches and libraries offer some of the best and least expensive options.
• Stay connected to your home school. Principal Shoemake said any student who wants to stay involved can. There are dedicated teachers and adults all across America who volunteer their time during summer to be that engaging adult so many kids need. He said the Casa Roble campus is thriving with groups meeting this summer.
• And last, all parents, regardless of education, can work on skills with their kids. Play hangman; go to the library every week; play board games together. What other simple enrichment ideas can you share?
Julie is the mother of four young children. Check out more of her work at kidfocused.com.