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The case against summer vacation! Why? Because it means a “slide” for our students!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Only kidding! But now that I have your attention, let’s look at why we should be concerned about students losing academic growth in the summer because literacy activities are not taking place. Yes, this is referred to by many as the “SUMMER SLIDE.” Deprived of healthy learning, millions of low-income students lose a considerable amount of what they learned during the school year.

A study by Johns Hopkins University adds to the mounting evidence of the “Summer Slide.” Inner-city or low-income students start out behind their more middle-class students and fall behind each year with most of that loss occurring when school is out. By the end of the elementary school years, Hopkins researchers found low-income children trail middle-income classmates, in some cases, by three grade levels.

“Children whose parents are college-educated continue to build their reading skills during the summer months,” said Karl Alexander, a Hopkins sociology professor involved in the research. “You go to a museum or you to a library or you go to the science center, and through osmosis you make some headway there.”

Professor Alexander, in his 2007 study at Johns Hopkins University, stated that two thirds of the reading achievement gap between 9th graders of low-and high-socioeconomic standing in Baltimore public schools can be traced to what they learned or failed to learn over their childhood summers. The study, which tracked data from about 325 Baltimore students from 1’st grade to age 22, points out that various characteristics that depend heavily on reading ability, such as students’ curriculum tract in high school, their risk of dropping out, and their probability of pursing higher education and landing higher paying jobs, all diverge widely according to socioeconomic levels. Does this happen in other advanced industrial countries? According to Mr. Alexander, the answer is NO, for those countries go to school 230 to 240 days a year as compared to 180 in the United States.

Low-income children actually keep pace with more affluent students during the academic year but slip behind during the summer. Researchers feel that during the school year, children in both affluent and lower–income communities benefit from the “faucet theory.” Learning resources are “turned on” for ALL CHILDREN during the school year, but in the summertime the faucet is turned off. Middle-class parents can make up the loss with their own resources, but working class and poor parents have a difficult time creating enriched learning experiences for their children over the summer months. All parents want the same things for their children, but low-income parents do not have the same access to opportunities for their children.

Summer deserves attention because when it starts, learning STOPS for many children. Children without resources spend their summer months playing on street corners or in front of the television. By the time the bell rings on a new school year, the low-income students have fallen months behind.

Given this powerful evidence, what can we do to turn on the LEARNING FAUCET during the summer? Experts believe that what is needed is a lengthening of the school year if we are to make a difference in the education of our low-income students. Due to the cost, however, it is just not going to happen. So what can we do about this intenable situation?
This year, the Worcester public schools system has expanded its summer program having it start July 5th and ends on July 29th. Academic program hours will be 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. In addition, five schools, Canterbury Street, Clark Street, Norrback, Elm Park and Quinsigamond, will offer programs from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Recreational activities will take place during those hours. The academic sites are as follows: Belmont, Burncoat, Canterbury, Chandler Elementary, Jacob Hiatt, Chandler, City View, Clark Street, Norrback, Columbus Park, Goddard, UPCS, Elm Park, Grafton Street, Heard Street, Lake View, Lincoln Street, May Street, McGrath, Quinsigamond, Rice Square, Roosevelt, Tatnuck Magnet, Thorndyke, Union Hill, Vernon Hill, Wawecus, Woodland and Worcester Arts Magnet.

I would urge parents to sign up now to attend one of those school sites!

As a former school principal I am convinced that the research on the “summer slide” is real and we need, as a school system and as a community, to do something about it. At the Worcester School Committee level, I have advocated for more reading for our children during the summer time and have asked that some school libraries give our parents and children an opportunity to take out books for summer reading. Many parents, due to transportation or work, cannot get their children to the Worcester Public Library. Allowing our children to take out books at their neighborhood schools will put books into their hands. I have also asked that through Connect Ed, (a way of calling all parents in Worcester), we call during the summer to remind our parents and students about their summer reading assignments. I have also asked that math ideas be given to our parents for summer practice. I would advocate that our students practice and master their math facts through math games and flash cards.

I have also advocated that we remind our parents about the importance of reading to their child EACH and EVERY night. With that in mind, I filed an order to have our schools talk about this issue with our parents. If we could get our parents to read just 25 minutes a night, we could revolutionize public education. Finally, I have asked that every school have a “Summer Reading Kick-off” during the week of June 12 and invite our parents to attend. Parents need to know the facts about the summer slide and what they can do to assist their child during vacation time. At the “kick-off” the schools will give students books from the “Worcester: The City that Reads Committee” as mentioned in our last issue and alert parents about our mandatory summer reading program. Children from grades K to grade 8 will read at least FIVE books during the summer. Parents will get instructions on how to choose a book and about writing a summary paragraph about the books. In grades 9-12, the students will read three books and write a multi-paragraph response for each book read.

Other ideas for parents to consider:

• Visit your Public Library and participate in Public Library summer programs; make sure that your child is reading a book each and every day. Use opportunities like the new Harry Potter release to get your child to read or take out a book based on a movie that he may want to see.

• There are many summer camps in almost every price range. Check with your school, the YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Club, Friendly House, Rainbow Child Development, for these organizations offer programs that can assist your child in learning while they have fun, too.

• Take educational trips, which can be low-cost visits to parks and museums in Worcester. If you have a car, visit educational sites such as Old Sturbridge Village. Check with the Worcester Public Library, for they have free passes to local museums.

• Work with your child on a hobby. If they are interested in comics or technology, you may want to expose them to as many opportunities as possible.

• Practice math skills every day. Think about opportunities through cooking to learn fractions or trips to the grocery store as a way of learning math skills. Also, every time you’re going for a walk or for a ride in the car ask them some math facts or make it into a game. Just playing cards on the grass could turn into a math game. Example: you turn over a card- 9- and your child turns over a card – 6- you could multiple, add or subtract. As you travel or walk in the city, do you think you’ll be stopped by more red lights or be able to go with more green lights? Keep a tally to check your guess. Pizzas offer a chance to talk about shapes and fractions. As you cut a pizza into equal pieces, count the pieces and describe the pieces with their fraction names. For example, if you cut it into 4 pieces, then each piece is 1/4th of the whole pizza.

• Limit time with the TV and video games. Just like during the school year, there should be a similar strategy over the summer months. It always makes sense to provide structure and limits. The key is providing a balance and keeping your child engaged.

Parents can also sneak some academics into summer for their child from pre-school to middle school with the activities below:

• Family Night each week. Bring out the popcorn and read a book. Try once in a while to get a book based on a movie. Then, show the movie and see if the book followed the movie script. Many movies can be obtained at the Worcester Public Library.

• Let the Games Begin – Janet Braverman, math specialist from Reston, Virginia, recommends playing board games and cards with children. Anything with numbers or counting helps. She plays Monopoly Junior and feels that it’s a fun way to learn addition, subtraction and counting money.

• If you are able to go to the beach, try collecting seashells and count them. Try drawing circles in the sand, size of a dinner plate, and have children place the shells in the circles by fives, and then have them work on counting by five or whatever number you come up with.

• Build your child’s comprehension listening skills by having an adult read and then discuss the story with them.

• Be sure that your child has a diary in the summer time, and have your child write the highlights of his day each evening before going to bed. Other writing activities could be writing a letter to a friend, relative or even to a member of the School Committee, – me! It’s important that your child writes, for the more that he writes, just like reading, the better he will become with this skill. In addition, be sure to have your child write about their favorite book that they read this summer and send their essay to me – John Monfredo, 8 Cherokee Road Worcester, Ma., 01606. I will select the winning essays from grades K to three, grades 4 to six, and from seven up. The winners will be awarded new books.

• Listen to your child read. Use strategies to help your child with tricky words. For example, when your child comes to an unfamiliar word, you might say, “Skip it and read to the end of the sentence. Now try again. What makes sense and looks like the word that you see?”
I sincerely hope that I have raised parents’ awareness of the importance of supporting their children’s learning in the summer time in reading and math and by providing ideas that can be done at home. Parents, you are the child’s first and most important teacher. It is up to you to provide the needed guidance during summer time. You can prevent the “summer slide” – I have the confidence that you will do it.