Summer Learning Offers Transformational Experiences

With summer break around the corner for many schools across the country, educators, advocates, and parents are resuming the debate over a longer school day and year. An article in the Boston Globe last week questioned whether increasing class time merits the considerable expense it would incur, and a series of readers debated the advantages and disadvantages of a longer school day and year in the New York Times’ Sunday Dialogue yesterday, responding to a proposal for a four-quarter year, reminiscing about forgotten notions of childhood, and weighing costs versus benefits. (The Time to Succeed Coalition is collecting additional reader responses on its blog.)

A point largely missing from the Globe’s analysis and the debate in the Times was that it isn’t just time that matters for learning, but the quality of the experience. Summer learning in particular has the potential to transform students’ lives. “Summer learning is not merely about adding days to the school calendar. It is about creating life-changing experiences that help students thrive,” wrote Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond, in a letter to the editor at the Globe. A high-school junior wrote to the New York Times that summer is when many older students pursue valuable internship opportunities. For many students lacking the initial skills, know-how or connections to participate in such internships, summer learning offers the chance to build and apply knowledge in real-world settings. In Boston, nonprofit organizations are currently partnering with Boston Public Schools in science centers, college campuses and workplaces to teach academic content in a new light, build background knowledge, and help students develop skills to succeed in college, careers and life.

While this kind of applied learning can benefit all students, as the high school student in the Times might agree, it is particularly essential for engaging those who have not succeeded in traditional classroom settings. “At a time of scarce resources,” Smith writes, “such investments can help prevent more costly interventions down the road.”

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