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Monday, June 13, 2011

Is it time to Stop the Summer School Break?

Perhaps nothing brings more controversy to a discussion of improving student performance than altering the school calendar to eliminate the summer school break.  As we approach the upcoming school break in the next week it again focuses on why we still have something that is generally acknowledged to be detrimental to learning.  We talk about paying teachers more, having smaller class size, testing students and developing charter schools but no serious discussion goes very far when the focus is eliminating the summer break.

As Elena Silva has written to explain the origins of the summer break:
Time in school has been added and subtracted in many ways throughout our country's history, although not always for obvious reasons. School schedules varied considerably by locality early in our country's history with some schools open nearly year round and others open only intermittently. In large cities, long school calendars were not uncommon during the 19th century. In 1840, the school systems in Buffalo, Detroit, and Philadelphia were open between 251 and 260 days of the year. New York City schools were open nearly year round during that period, with only a three-week break in August. This break was gradually extended, mostly as a result of an emerging elite class of families who sought to escape the oppressive summer heat of the city and who advocated that children needed to "rest their minds." By 1889, many cities had moved to observe the two-month summer holiday of July and August. Rural communities generally had the shortest calendars, designed to allow children to assist with family farm work, but they began to extend their school hours and calendars as the urban schools shortened theirs.
For students that attend summer activities that stimulate their learning during this period the learning loss can be minimized but research has shown that students from lower income and minority families suffer the most loss during this period. Children from middle class families rely less on school instruction to achieve academic success than lower class families.  Summer school is usually seen as only needed for under performing students and only 10% of students attend any summer school sessions.  Recent school cut backs in summer school sessions has only widened this discrepancy among student performance.

A good place for parents to look for summer educational activities is our library.  The Summer Reading Club is a great way to keep up reading skills and have fun reading books that students would enjoy.  The library is a great source to learn about all types of summer activities in Howard County that are educational in their recent blog post. There are also many free online sources to keep students skills sharp.  The online math program from Sheppard Software is only one that I have found.  Fact Monster is a great source of learning and homework help for students of all ages.  Even Colonial Williamsburg has a kid’s activity page on colonial activities.
Howard County schools also offer the Bridges Over Howard County program that attempt to close the achievement gap for under performing students. The school system also offers a wide range of summer classes and camps.
Finally with the warmer summer months just getting out and doing a “nature walk” with kids along our great path system can be a fun and educational experience. Learning is a year long activity.

If you saw the plane that went down in the Hudson last year go by last week on Route 70 you might enjoy the re-creation that was done to show what happened.

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