Jett adjusts his reading glasses!

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Should school districts change the school calendar and eliminate summer vacations? That was a headline of a story I wrote several years ago for InCity Times. Obviously, it was to get the attention of the reader, but as you know more truth is said in jest! Since my days as a principal of Belmont Community School and then as a Worcester School Committee member I have been espousing the dangers of academic loss during summer vacation, known as the “summer slide.”

Summer reading and math loss is real. As readers, do you know that the best predictor of summer loss or gain is whether or not your children read during the summer? If your children don’t read during the summer months they’ll likely lose skills. But the good news is that you can prevent it! More on this to follow.

Let’s first look at the facts: low-income students lose substantial ground in reading during the summer, while their higher-income peers often gain. What I find most disturbing is that research shows that summer learning loss is cumulative year after year and this contributes to the student achievement gap that we all hear about. Figure it out: If children are losing two to three months of academic growth during the summer and if you look at that situation occurring year after year, it adds up to be a heavy loss by the time the student enters the seventh grade. According to researchers, the result of a “summer slide” in academic skills may account for 80% of the achievement gap by grade six.

Sure, everyone is excited about summer time, but it can be devastating to the young minds of our children in the inner city as we look at the data or just use some common sense. Summer can be the enemy of the school teacher, for students forget their math and they stop reading. In the case of those students with limited English skills, many lose their newly acquired words. The summer slide is real, for our schools see the decline in reading and math achievement just from being away from school. Often it is the students who can least afford to lose the reading or math gains they’ve achieved during the school year who fall the farthest behind when they return to the classroom after summer break.

I do hope that I have the attention of my readers! This is a very serious problem! Let’s see what we as a community can do about it:

First, a reading list was passed out to our WPS students during “Reading in our City Week,” urging parents to make sure their children read at least five books during the summer and do the writing activities that are assigned. Parents, I urge you to make reading a priority at home. I am suggesting that reading take place every day in your household. Make it happen, parents and grandparents! If we could get parents to read to their child just 20 minutes a night we could revolutionize public education! As stated in the reading pamphlet from the Worcester Public Schools, it is very important to help your child understand that summer reading can be fun and beneficial at the same time. Students who develop the habit of reading not only learn to be better readers but also achieve greater success in school.

Remember, readers are leaders!

In addition, the Worcester Public Schools sent home a “Summer Math Activity” pamphlet. Regular math practice over the summer will maintain and strengthen math gains made over the school year. The activities are fun and can involve the entire family. Also, think about opportunities through cooking to learn fractions or trips to the grocery store as opportunities to learn math skills, just doing measuring or tracking temperature. Play educational games.

The trick is how do we make this fun and motivating, while giving children serious opportunities to learn the skills they need? I would also advocate that our students practice and master their math facts through math games and flash cards during the summer break. Play cards such as “War.” When one turns over a card you need to call out the two cards with multiplication answer. Example 9 and 8 – call out 72 (same for addition and subtraction facts).

Please take the time to look at the suggestions from the schools and if you have any questions talk to someone at the Central Office, for there are 16 summer school sites open this year. Give it some thought: if there are any openings register your child for one of those programs. In addition, across the city there are a number of free or inexpensive programs for parents to consider for their child. So look into them immediately.

Another reminder: Remember that the best deal in our city is a visit to the Worcester Public Library or to one of its many branches. The library has lots of ongoing programs this summer. It’s imperative that our adults take the time to bring a child to the library!