Blame Tom Sawyer: Americans have a skewed view of childhood and
summertime. We associate the school year with oppression and the summer
months with liberty. School is regimen; summer is creativity. School is
work and summer is play. But when American students are competing with
children around the globe who may be spending four weeks longer in
school each year, larking through summer is a luxury we can't afford.
What's more, for many children — especially children of low-income
families — summer is a season of boredom, inactivity and isolation.

Deprived of healthy stimulation, millions of low-income kids lose
a significant amount of what they learn during the school year. Call it
"summer learning loss," as the academics do, or "the summer slide," but
by any name summer is among the most pernicious — if least acknowledged
— causes of achievement gaps in America's schools. Children with access
to high-quality experiences can exercise their minds and bodies at
sleep-away camp, on family vacations, in museums and libraries and
enrichment classes. Meanwhile, children without resources languish on
street corners or in front of glowing screens. By the time the bell
rings on a new school year, the poorer kids have fallen weeks, if not
months, behind. And even well-off American students may be falling
behind their peers around the world.

And what starts as a hiccup in a 6-year-old's education can be a crisis
by the time that child reaches high school. A major study by researchers
at Johns Hopkins University concluded that while students made similar
progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the
better-off kids held steady or continued to advance during the summer —
while disadvantaged students fell back. By the end of grammar school,
low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind. By
ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income
groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.

"There is an idyllic view of summer, but we've known for decades that
the reality is very different for a lot of underprivileged kids," says
Ron Fairchild, CEO of a non-profit organization in Baltimore called the
National Summer Learning Association.

Fairchild and his organization are part of a growing movement to
stop the summer slide by coordinating, expanding, and improving summer
enrichment programs — especially for low-income children. Supporters
include some of the nation's largest private foundations. But as
reformers strive to redeem summer as an educational resource, the trick
is to seize the opportunity without destroying what's best about the
season: the possibility of fun and freedom and play.

In Indianapolis a group of local philanthropies, led by the Lilly
Endowment, decided in the 1990s to coordinate their efforts to provide
safe places for children when they weren't in school. In recent years,
says Lilly's Willis Bright, the focus has increasingly been on "the
learning element" — a critical need, given that the Indianapolis Public
Schools graduate fewer than half of their students. "But that doesn't
mean you make it just another classroom," Bright adds. "You can teach
physics with a basketball."

Grants from the group support everything from field trips to
teacher salaries. Third and fourth graders at the Hawthorne Community
Center in West Indianapolis learn pre-algebra thanks to the local
donors, while other students explore plant science at an urban garden
created by retired biochemist Aster Bekele. The strategy is to build on
the city's existing patchwork of day camps, community centers, sports
camps and summer jobs programs. Improve quality while keeping costs low.

But demand outstrips supply. Experts believe that a majority of the
30 million American kids poor enough to qualify for free or
reduced-price school lunches do not attend any kind of summer enrichment

The obvious way to reach a much larger group is through the
public schools. And indeed, education reformers have been talking about
lengthening the school year to make America's students more competitive
for at least a generation. Long summer holidays are the legacy of our
vanished agrarian past, when kids were needed in the fields during the
growing season.

Cincinnati's public schools are tackling the problem of summer
learning loss through a program called "Fifth Quarter," offering an
additional month of classes in 16 schools serving low-income students.
Houston schools offer four weeks of math and science education for
at-risk students.

In the Appalachian town of Corbin, Kentucky, public school
administrator Karen West has built a 10-week operation, running 10 hours
per day, from the day after school lets out until the day before
classes resume.

For Ron Fairchild, successes like these show the possibilities in
a new approach to summer school. "That phrase has such a bad ring to
it," he notes. "We need to push school districts to frame summer school
as a good thing, something extra — not a punishment. There is a cultural
barrier that we have to overcome. We're not The Grinch That Stole
Summer Vacation."


Source: TIME magazine –

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