For Kids Going Back to School, Summer Experiences Matter

Kids-EB-Summer Bookworm

by Melissa Duclos



Educators and parents of school-aged children are likely familiar with the term “summer slide”— the loss of skills and knowledge kids can experience over summer vacation. The impact is widespread, with 90 percent of teachers spending at least three weeks every fall re-teaching old material, according to surveys by the National Summer Learning Association.

But the summer slide is steeper for some children than others: according to the RAND Corporation, children from higher-income backgrounds actually gain ground in reading over the summer, while children from low-income families fall behind. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that two-thirds of the achievement gaps observed between 9th graders from low-income backgrounds and their higher income peers can be traced to summer learning loss.

Income-based achievement gaps are, in reality, opportunity gaps. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education found that rising first-graders from low-income families were less likely than their more affluent peers to engage in learning activities over the summer including math, writing, and reading, or to visit museums, libraries, and historic sites.

To prevent summer slide and the resulting achievement gaps, we must provide children from low-income families with access to summer learning opportunities, and we must start early. This summer, we visited programs in Southeast Portland and Douglas County to learn more about their approach to providing young students with summer learning opportunities.

Summer Bookworms at Earl Boyles Elementary

Summer Bookworms, now in its seventh summer, is part of our Early Works initiative, a new approach to early learning and supporting young children’s healthy development. Summer Bookworms serves up to 24 rising first- and second-grade students at-risk of falling behind in reading. During four weeks in July and August, students meet daily with a lead elementary school teacher and receive one-on-one tutoring with Reading Results, reading sessions with SMART (Start Making a Reader Today), and free books from the Children’s Book Bank.
During our visit to Summer Bookworms, Reading Results Executive Director Jennifer Samuels explained the role of each organization: Reading Results employs trained tutors to deliver data-driven, targeted reading instruction that addresses students’ individual learning gaps and capitalizes on their strengths; SMART volunteers provide time for student-led one-on-one reading that emphasizes reading for fun; in-class instruction with a licensed teacher reinforces the reading strategies; and Children’s Book Bank gives students books to bring these learning activities into their homes.
On the day we visited, students worked quietly with Reading Results tutors at tables scattered throughout the school’s library, while others enthusiastically perused book offerings to read with their SMART mentors. When asked about the best book she’s read so far over the summer, one rising first-grader pointed first to Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems, but then quickly selected four other books on the table, adding them all to her list of favorites.

Summer Play to Learn in Douglas County

In Drain, Oregon, educators and community members have focused their summer learning efforts on kindergarten readiness. Four years ago, Erin Helgren, the site liaison for Children’s Institute’s Early Works initiative at Yoncalla Elementary School, collaborated with representatives from the nearby communities of Elkton and Drain to secure grant funding from the Oregon Community Foundation for Summer Play to Learn. The program meets twice a week for seven weeks, offering interactive circle time, reading and math activities, play time in the park, free lunch, swimming, books to take home, and training to help parents support their children’s learning. The sessions are developed and taught by early childhood educators in the area.
Developed with the community’s needs in mind, the program is the only one in the area that aims to curb summer learning loss and is free and open to all families. This enables parents with kids at a range of ages to participate, something parent Brenda Russell explains was important to her and many other families. Russell also appreciates the relationships that she’s developed through the program. “You build support here because you learn from one another and you create friendships. It’s a positive thing.”

The teachers leading the program are equally enthusiastic. “I just had an amazing moment in the reading tent with one of my students from last year,” kindergarten teacher Kaaron Lyons told us. “We got to read together and for me as a teacher, it was so amazing to see what she’s learned!”

By providing free learning opportunities for students, Earl Boyles Elementary and the communities of Elkton, Yoncalla, and Drain are helping to nurture young children’s natural love of learning while addressing opportunity gaps and preventing summer slide.

For more on the SMART program and their role at Earl Boyles Elementary this summer, check out our podcast conversation with SMART’s executive director and program manager.


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