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Awesome Summer Schools: What Teachers Can Learn From Programs That Go Beyond Catching Up
By Monica Fuglei
Slump, slide, or whatever you want to call it: teachers know the rise and fall in student test scores during a calendar year. Most students have a predictable drop in scores after their summer breaks, though this slide tends to be worse among low-income children. The months-long summer break is thought to cause this regression. Some districts have shed the September to June calendar for year-round schooling in order to address the issue, but many communities remain on a traditional schedule. Teachers and residents of those districts try to fight the summer slide with summer reading programs, workbooks, and even take-home packets or book clubs.
Modern summer school: An effective blend of academics and enhancement
Some schools are beginning to transition their viewpoint on summer school as well: what was once a requirement for students who were falling behind is now increasingly considered an opportunity not only to avoid the summer slump, but to enhance a student’s learning and, more importantly, their excitement and passion for school itself.
A recent New York Times article outlines this development in education and the research being done to study its effectiveness. This piece focuses on the National Summer Learning Association’s work in developing summer school programs that break free of the remedial and test-preparation view of summer classes, instead focusing on an approach that blends academics with hands-on programming that appeals to 21st-century students.
Author Motoko Rich cites Duke University professor Harris M. Cooper, who notes the necessity of enhanced summer learning because the traditional school year does not fit the modern family’s lifestyle or the way kids learn. Due to budget constraints, enhanced summer education programs must prove to be effective in order to receive the public and private funding that fuels them. To test their efficacy, a major study by the RAND Corporation on the effectiveness of these programs is underway.
Summer school projects: Building go-carts, writing screenplays, forensic science labs
The nature of these summer programs allows for more flexibility and creativity. Rich interviews Angela Maxey, principal of Sallye B. Mathis Elementary school and watches one of the school’s English classes work on an assignment together. Rather than writing a traditional essay, these students work on scripts for short films they will write and produce. Maxey notes, “They don’t even realize they are learning to write and present themselves while they are writing these scripts.” She goes on to discuss the advantages of summer program financing which allow for student incentives like ice cream party rewards for perfect attendance.
The challenge of a non-standard educational session combines with instructor creativity and field trips to create an engaging — and exciting — learning environment. Students who might be relegated to textbooks during the school year have access to computer labs for educational games or to practice writing through blogs, can study physics through a forensic science intensive, or even discover math in a music class.
The NSLA website has several examples of this creativity. The Providence videos are a good example. One shows students learning physics through building and driving go-carts and even taking sailboats for a spin:
The other video focuses on the teacher and administrator side of enhanced learning:
It is clear from the NSLA videos of summer learning in action that teachers devise lesson plans with focused goals using fun activities and success comes when articulated learning objectives mingle with the excitement of an engaged student body.
Two important questions when planning summer enrichment
In the New York Times piece, Principal Maxey notes that research into these summer enrichment programs will help answer the question of “how do we motivate children so they want to learn in the summer?” Once we establish the measurable benefits of summer enrichment programs, the larger question should be, “how can we use these summer enrichment programs to show us how to motivate and engage students year-round?”
To learn more about the National Summer Learning Association, visit www.summerlearning.org. Their principles for summer learning and videos of these principles in action can be found in the New Vision For Summer School section.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.