Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Learning Loss

Summer learning loss has been defined as the loss in academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer vacation. Although we expect to lose an edge when we don’t practice, summer learning loss is much greater for youth in low-income groups than it is for their middle-class peers. In 1996 a study by Cooper found that on average, students lose approximately 2.6 months in the area of mathematical computation during the summer, increasing the achievement gap. Cooper also found that low-income children lost over 2 months in reading achievement in this same time period. The Summer learning loss is profound enough that this year Michelle Obama is on board supporting a call to service with the theme, “United We Serve: Let’s Read Let’s Move”. The First Lady stated that summer is the perfect time to get kids up and exercising the body while they read and exercise the mind.

In a June 15, 2009 article in the Washington Post, staff writer Valerie Strauss stated that the “summer brain drain” is not felt equally across all children. She quotes experts from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Virginia on what happens during the summer. Here is what the article highlighted:

“Most students—regardless of family income or background—lost 2 to 2 ½ months of the math computational skills that they learned during the school year.

Students from low-income homes lost two to three months in reading skills learned in the previous school year.

Middle-class students make slight gains in reading achievement as measured on standardized test. [1]

So what does this mean for after-school programs? It means that we need to find a way to support and encourage summer learning. We need to look at all options and work closely within a school district to determine how funds may be reallocated to the summer months. Learning in the summer doesn’t need to look like the school day. You could have a lyrics class to promote reading, an engineering class with robots to build to encourage interest and experience in math and science, a poetry class to offer opportunities for youth to write, and so on. You can operate with a great theme such as “Night in the Museum”, “Back to the Future”, or “National Treasure”. It’s important that you check in with the students to see what interests them.

We need to work intentionally to ensure that learning levels are, at a minimum, maintained, and when possible, increased during the summer. We will never close the achievement gap in this country by moving a few months forward only to slide back several months in the summer. Think it through. It is not too early to begin planning for summer, 2011.

Not so usual celebrations…

July 18th is National Ice Cream Day. What a terrific day! What’s not to like about ice cream? Certainly if you’re allergic to dairy, this doesn’t seem like such a great day, but for most of us, ice cream is truly a treat. Actually, for some, July is Ice Cream Month which would give you 31 days of ice cream treats (perhaps this is where 31 flavors—Baskin Robbins got their name.) It was in 1984 that then President Ronal Reagan proclaimed July as National Ice Cream Month and he also established National Ice Cream Day as the third Sunday in July. Another fact about ice cream that you may not know is that the ice cream cone was invented on 1904 on July 23 at the St. Louis World Fair. This is disputed by a patent filed in New York months before the World’s Fair began—either way, 1904 seems to be the year of invention. Either way, those of us who enjoy ice cream cones are delighted to credit either or both of these dates.

Activities for Kids

Two engaging activities come to mind for National Ice Cream Day. The first would be a taste test to see if kids can taste a difference between Baskin and Robbins, Haagen Dazs, Nestlees, Ben and Jerry’s, the store brand and so on. Have kids take the taste test and proclaim the winner the best ice cream.

A second project could be to make homemade ice cream. Each student can do this in either cans or better yet, two plastic baggies. The larger baggie holds the ice (salted of course so it will be colder), and the internal baggie holds the ice cream mix (you can get a recipe on line that uses milk, sugar, vanilla, and eggs). Once you pour some of the mixture into the smaller Ziploc baggie, you place it inside the larger baggie, filling it with ice. Then the youth acts like an external dasher, rolling the contents of the baggies around and around until the ingredients start to harden into ice cream.

[1] Washington Post. June 15, 2009

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