The ‘summer slump,’ as I’ve heard it called, scares me. It scares me a lot. Whether you refer to this phenomena as the slip, slide, or loss, all teachers experience this to some degree. There is research galore that says students with traditional summer breaks, more often than not, return to school in the fall at a lower level than they left in the spring. I’ve done a ton of research on this recently and found that the numbers range from 2 months’ loss to a year’s loss. More surprisingly, summer learning loss seems to be non-discriminatory, occurring to students at all grade levels, performance levels, and demographics.
In a (non-scientific) study of my own students, I randomly selected 4 below-level students, 4 on-level students and 4 above-level students. I looked at each student’s Spring 2015 and Fall 2015 scores on the same reading comprehension/vocabulary standardized test (Note: My philosophy is every student is a whole puzzle and cannot be categorized by 1 test, so this data just represents one component of any given student’s picture). Of all 12 students, only 1 student maintained the same score over the summer. 1 student increased their score by the equivalent of 1 month’s growth and the remainder of the students had decreased scores. When averaged by category, the below-level students lost an average of 6 month’s learning over the summer. The on-level students lost the equivalent of 4 months learning over the summer. The above-level students lost the equivalent of 8 months learning over the summer. While acknowledging all of the scientific errors in this ‘experiment,’ there is real and pressing concern present.
In a dream world every student would come back to school in the fall showing 3 months’ growth (or more!). In my less-dreamy world students would come back at least MAINTAINING all they’ve worked for in previous years. But they’re not. So we try summer packets. We try online programs. We try to send library cards. We try summer school. The problem is, those things don’t work for my students.
You see, my students have parents that work full time, if not more. Our summer school program is 3 hours a day, requiring parent transportation twice during working hours. Among other problems, the majority of our students simply do not have the ability to get themselves the 5 or miles to school and home when their parents work or are without a car. I thought if we could just get them to us we could maintain the skills they’ve mastered in fun ways. There’s no way I could drive my tiny Prius around and pick up students. But I could do something else …
I could travel to them. It turns out our kids that need academic supports the most live in large clusters. One apartment complex in particular houses 45 of our students. They range in ability level, but the majority of them would benefit from some summer support. With a lot of support from my principal and colleagues, I decided to go out on a limb and call the apartment complex. What was the worst that could happen?
I’ll tell you. The worst that could happen was that the apartment staff would have no way to help. The best case scenario? They’d lend me a space to come visit the kids this summer. I hadn’t worked out the details yet. But I called. And this particular apartment complex is run by the most incredible housing manager. She was excited and committed to helping her students learn all summer long. So she found a space, had it painted and redecorated and created a classroom I could use to meet kids through their vacation. This was better than expected!
A few notes and phone calls home, and summer school has been moved. We’ll keep some sections in our building, but a lot of our kids aren’t going more than a few steps to meet me throughout the summer. I have no idea how it will turn out. But I promise you this – I’ll have some data to find out if the kids I serve this summer have less learning loss or not. If the program proves effective, I guess I better get used to my new commute!
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.