Tag Archives: summer vacation


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!

Pets and summertime


Deb and her little Juno are ready for summer!

Check your dogs for ticks! They can get Lyme disease, too!

It’s the height of tick season, which means people should take extra care to prevent the spread of Lyme disease – not just to people, but also to their dogs.

Lyme disease, as well as another tick-borne ailment called anaplasmosis, can be just as harmful to dogs as to humans. Symptoms can include fever, joint pain, lethargy, loss of appetite, neurologic disorders and difficulty walking. Lyme disease may also cause kidney damage and can be fatal if left untreated.

Dog owners should be especially watchful if their pets become feverish or start to limp, especially if they limp on different legs at different times. A dog with those symptoms should be taken to the family veterinarian or to an emergency veterinarian.

Any dog who has fever and is limping should be evaluated.

One of the best things dog owners can do is to give their dogs anti-tick medicine, not just in the summer but year-round. The medicines are available over the counter and from veterinarians.

It’s probably not realistic to keep dogs inside throughout tick season. Dogs will be dogs, they love hiking, they love the woods. So after dogs go outside, make sure to check them carefully for ticks.

Here are some more tips for making sure dogs are protected:

Talk with your family veterinarian about vaccinating your pet against Lyme disease.

Talk with your veterinarian about the best way to prevent fleas and ticks from latching on to your pet.

Your veterinarian may suggest an oral medication so that your pet is simply given a pill once a month. Or the vet may encourage spot-on medications, medicated shampoos, powders or tick collars.

Consider having your yard and home treated for ticks.

Inspect your dogs for ticks if they have been outside near wooded areas.

If you find a tick, take tweezers and remove the tick as close to the body of the pet as possible, trying to get the head of the tick out.

Watch your pet carefully over time and look out for any changes in behavior.
If your pet is not acting right, take him or her to your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Traveling with pets 

Travel can be stressful for both pets and people. These tips will make your trip a more enjoyable experience for everyone, whether they have two legs or four:

Never leave your pet unattended in a car, even with the windows cracked. If it’s 85 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can rocket to 120 degrees in a matter of minutes.

Always make sure you have plenty of your pet’s medication packed. Take extra to be on the safe side.

Pack a first aid kit for your pet: tweezers to remove ticks, bandaging material for any cuts, hydrogen peroxide, etc.

If your pets have any ongoing medical conditions, take a copy of their medical records with you.

Identify the nearest animal emergency hospital to where you are staying and have the phone number handy.

Make sure your pet’s heartworm and flea prevention medications are current.

Don’t feed a large meal before leaving; simply allow periodic snacking.

Carry collapsible bowls for food and water.

Make sure that dog tags are clearly visible because people are more likely to catch pets if they can return them to the owner. Having your pet get a microchip for identification is a good step, too.

If your pet has implants (e.g. plates or screws from orthopedic surgery), and he or she will be flying, you should bring a note from your veterinarian.

When flying, be sure to have wheels for your carrier. Even a 10-pound animal can get heavy when carried in a shoulder carrier walking through a long airport terminal.

If your dog is one of the 17 percent who get sick when traveling, ask your veterinarian about an anti-vomiting medication. Dogs get motion sickness either because they are anxious while traveling or because their balance is affected by movement.

Special considerations for kitty:


Rosalie’s April on Independence Day!

Cats can be particularly sensitive to traveling. Here are tips for keeping your cat calm:

Try placing some catnip in the carrier 30 minutes before your trip; this may have a calming effect.

Don’t use tranquilizers or sedatives in cats for travel due to potential complications such as hypotension or paradoxical hyper-excitability.

Always keep your cat confined in a carrier while traveling. A frightened feline can easily escape through an open car window or door without anyone noticing.

Be sure to carry some moistened and dry paper towels and plastic bags for potential carrier accidents.

Have a safe and fun summer with your companion animal!

Vacation times!

By Edith Morgan

School’s out and it’s time to celebrate, relax, rest,  hang out. Then the boredom sets in. “There’s nothing to do!!” is the wail heard throughout the land.

Of course, as we were growing up, we rarely resorted to that plaint: our parents would respond with a list of chores, books to read, study of subjects where we had not demonstrated stellar performance, and suggestions as to how we could make ourselves useful to others, by volunteering, writing to the sick and shut-in, or, if we were old enough, to get a job. I remember babysitting, cleaning houses, and one summer in high school stuffing envelopes for Senator Judd in Minnesota (at 50 cents an hour!).

But more than anything I remember summer as a time to read, read, read – voraciously devouring books by one author ( I went through a Galsworthy period, triggered by an English class – as were several other such pursuits), and reading anything in print that I could get. To my parents’ dismay, a group of us in the neighborhood used to get together and read comics, which at that time could be bought for 10 cents each, and traded in for anywhere from 1 cent to 5 cents –thus having an unending supply of comics. ( Had I kept them, they would be valuable collectors’ items today……)My point is, we were never bored, and time went fast.

As the occasional firecracker goes off in the area, I am reminded that Fourth of July is the major holiday of the summer. How far we have come from the original celebrations of my youth: it was a patriotic holiday, and we had read, and sometimes memorized parts of, the Declaration of Independence. And ever since, particularly recently, as I watch events unfolding here and around the world, I go back and re-read that marvelous document – marvelous not only in the great ideas it contains, but in the grace with which they are expressed. How sad it is that so many Americans do not really know what it says, let alone how it says it.

A few years ago some researcher went about asking people if they know from where came this starting phrase:”When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people ……etc..”, and the other one : “WE the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union,…….etc..”.As a teacher, I was terribly saddened that so many people could not identify the first as the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, and the second as the beginning of the U.S.Constitution. Even worse, too many did not know what these two basic documents contained, and made outrageous claims as to what rights they gave them, going so far as to assert that the constitution gave us the right to happiness.

So I hope that we all should take time, this vacation, to re-examine the original words of the Declaration of Independence, ponder what they mean, and, as the “rockets’ red glare” illuminate our skies, understand a bit more about what is happening in so many parts of the world as well as here, where we are redefining what our basic rights and responsibilities are, and how we can achieve them.

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.

Don’t get squeezed on your next flight!

By Chris Holbein

If the thought of trying to squeeze into last year’s swimsuit isn’t incentive enough to slim down before your summer vacation, here’s another reason to drop those unwanted pounds: Airline passengers with “extra baggage” may have to pay more.

This spring, United Airlines announced that passengers who cannot fit into a single seat will be required to pay an additional fare. A handful of other carriers, including Southwest Airlines, have similar policies. So much for the “friendly skies.”

But there is a simple way for frequent flyers to lose weight and avoid paying extra airfare: Stop being a “frequent eater” of meat. Studies show that vegetarians are, on average, about 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters are and that consuming animal products can make you pile on unhealthy weight. Continue reading Don’t get squeezed on your next flight!