“Summer is the most unequal time in America. We pour enormous amounts of resources in children learning but much of that investment stops in the summer months.”
That’s according to Matthew Boulay, founder and CEO of the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), in an interview with U.S. News and World Report.
NSLA aims to reduce the effects of ‘summer slide,’ the loss of academic knowledge–up to one month’s worth of learning, according to some estimates–that occurs when students are out of school during the summer months.
For underprivileged students, especially poor and minority students who may have less access to summer academic programs than their more fortunate peers, the effects of summer slide can be even more acute.
“It’s a uniquely American problem, we have the longest summer break of any developed or industrialized country,” Boulay tells U.S. News. “In this country the inequalities, the income gap and wealth gap are growing and that sort of reinforces the inequalities during the summer.”
While groups like NSLA look for ways to reduce the negative effects of summer slide, and researchers hunt for answers about the root causes of the phenomenon, school districts are in search of practical ways to keep students engaged–even when they’re not in school.
At Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina, the antidote to summer slide is books–lots of books.
As The 74 reports, a new district-wide program, “Break with a Book,” aims to fight summer slide by providing six books to nearly 20,000 students from Title I elementary schools.
“Break with a Book” isn’t just about getting kids to read over the summer. The district also hopes the program will help get parents engaged in their children’s education.
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District leaders say the program was inspired by calls from curious parents, looking to prepare students for the upcoming school year. It was also informed by the Every Student Succeeds Act and its emphasis on family engagement.
As Guilford County Schools superintendent Sharon Contreras tells The 74:
“We think it’s important that reading is a family endeavor and that we’re encouraging our parents to read, the older siblings to read, and the younger children in our households to begin the process of literacy. It will strengthen [familial] bonds and strengthen the learning process.”
With “Break with a Book,” the district not only encourages parents to read with their kids, but to support that reading by asking comprehension questions and attending reading events at local schools and libraries.
Sustaining ‘summer slide’ programs
Guilford County isn’t the only district tackling summer slide through reading and other programs. Still, getting the funding, resources, and community support needed to run these efforts is not as easy it seems.
A 2017 report from the RAND Corporation looked at several summer engagement programs and their struggles to remain sustainable over multiple years. The most effective strategy for building sustainability, according to RAND’s researchers, is to ensure that summer programs are fully integrated into the goals and mission of the school district.
The researchers suggest three strategies for achieving this:
- Build awareness of the program and connect it to broader district goals
A key to sustaining support for summer programs is to make sure that staff and community members are both aware of the program and understand why it’s important. An important aspect of this, according to RAND, is identifying supporting data, which shows value and can help the district achieve its goals.
- Bring all stakeholders into the planning process
Effective summer programs are essentially collaborations between relevant departments in a district. Successful summer programs are often built by cross-departmental teams who bring different perspectives–from transportation to food service to student support–to the table.
- Capitalize on existing experts and structuresWhile summer programs are often administered by small, skeleton teams, the RAND report suggests summer leaders leverage the expertise of school officials who do similar work throughout the year. When hiring program coordinators or teachers, for instance, program leaders should rely on the help of HR hiring managers or recruiters. When developing curriculum for programs, summer leaders should align closely with academic experts and teachers, and so on.
What steps is your school or district taking to tackle summer slide over the next few months? Do you have a plan to extend student learning this summer? Tell us in the comments.