Happy Summer Learning Day!

Congratulations to the National Summer Learning Association for a great day of advocacy and awareness! To spread the word, TASC rounded up a great list of ideas and resources for a rich summer experience.

Guest post by Therese Workman, Web Communications Manager, TASC

Summer is nearly here, and school is letting out! Before we all kick off our flip-flops and nestle into hammocks, it’s good to take a look at some hard facts. According to the National Summer Learning Association, too much R+R without helping kids keep up their academic skills can result in more than just forgetting a few vocab words:pic 1

  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
  • More than half of the achievement gap between kids from lower and higher income homes can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, poorer kids are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.
  • Kids lose more than academic knowledge over the summer; those who are at high risk of obesity gain weight more rapidly during summer break.

So how do we keep kids engaged and active—outside of school? We’ve pulled together some creative ways to keep kids from slipping down that dreaded “summer slide:”

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“Play with Shrinky Dinks to learn about the fundamental law of physics: the ‘conservation of matter.’ A 5-year-old will immediately notice how the size of the Shrinky Dink actually increases, or in her words, ‘gets fatter,’ while cooking. So get out your rulers and have fun learning physics.” (Here’s a sample lesson plan.) – Jessica Donner, Director, Every Hour Counts

“When my now 20-year-old son was a boy, we liked to expand his horizons by taking him to see classic films in the park or to listen to outdoor music performances — mostly jazz festivals, like the Charlie Parker festival in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. You can bring food, relax and take in some great storytelling and inspiring musicianship.” (Check out the Bryant Park outdoor summer movie schedule) – Deborah Taylor, Regional Tutor Coordinator, MS ExTRA

“I’m a big fan of First Book and they’re big fans of summer reading! Right now, their blog is filling up with book lists for different age groups. As someone who spent lots of summers reading as a kid, I’m loving this way to beat the summer slide!” – Rebecca Forbes, Research Programs Specialist
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» EducationWorld has prepared a list of 25 Summer Learning Activites, including making your own ice cream, creating magic crystal gardens and building the “best paper plane in the world.”

» Scholastic’s 50 Ideas for Summer Learning are broken into categories by subject and grade level, including games for long car trips.

» The folks at ReadingRockets remind us that keeping up writing during the summer – in addition to reading – is also important. Check out ways to start up kid blogs, create summer trading cards and use geotagging to create scavenger hunts with your smartphone.

» The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) has just announced even more opportunities for middle school-aged participants in summer enrichment programs. Be sure to check out the new additions and pre-enroll by June 30.

Do you have any activities or ideas to keep summer both fun and productive? Let us know in the comments!

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“New Vision” for Summer Includes a Systems Approach

“Summer and extended learning are a life-saving experience. That’s not an exaggeration.”

It was a grand statement, especially coming from New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the leader of the largest school district in the United States. Fariña’s remarks were a fitting opening at the May 19 convening of the New Vision for Summer Schools Network, a national coalition of 30 school districts committed to advancing summer learning. Bringing together community organizations, city and district leaders, policymakers, and funders, the day’s focus was on building systems-level approaches to summer learning to advance both equity and excellence.

During the opening to the event, which was hosted by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) at the Ford Foundation’s headquarters in New York, Chancellor Fariña and others highlighted the benefits of summer learning—among them, stronger reading and vocabulary skills, field trips to new places, mentorship from a caring adult, and the opportunity for “hangout time,” which is of particular value for adolescents.

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Research Round-Up: Exciting Outcomes

The latest research from Deborah Lowe Vandell and her colleagues at UC Irvine suggests that consistent participation in high-quality after-school programming by elementary school students (K-5) vastly narrows the achievement gap between students from low-income and high-income families by the fifth grade (see infographic). Vandell’s study did not describe the content of the afterschool programs in her study, but several other recent studies have shown that similar outcomes may result from a variety of program models:

Research round-up Feb. 2014 image

  • A YMCA study published earlier this year found that students who participated actively in their High School Youth Initiative program—a summer and after-school program focused on technology skills, leadership, and homework help—had higher grades and test scores in math and language arts, as well as improved overall GPAs and higher attendance as they progressed in school. Participating youth came from low-income families and diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • A study of youth development in minority boys who participated in the Sport Hartford Boys (SHB) program indicated that involvement in the program positively influenced the participants emotionally and socially, as gauged by their development in the “6 C’s”— competence, character, caring, confidence, connection, and contribution. The “6 C’s” are a set of characteristics identified by developmental scientists as indicators of positive youth development and future success.
  • A case-study series of four California schools found that implementing “student-centered” practices, such as connecting learning to real-world experiences and assigning student-directed research projects, dramatically improved the college readiness of low-income and minority students as compared to their peers in traditional schools in the same districts and across the state.

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Closing the Enrichment Gap: The Power of Data

What does a genuine 21st-century education system look like? Well, for starters, it closes academic achievement gaps, gaps in health and wellness, and enrichment gaps among all young people.

    Emmanuele Rosario, 6th grade, and Daniel Wu, 8th grade, demonstrate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that they built in the SeaPerch afterschool program.

Two Orlando middle-schoolers demonstrate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that they built in the SeaPerch afterschool program.

Sounds like a tall order, but for Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Paul Reville, nothing short of it will suffice to provide every student with the tools to succeed—to show that “‘all’ means all” when we talk about educating every one of our nation’s youth.

Reville, who formerly served as Massachusetts Secretary of Education, was the opening speaker at last week’s National Conference on Summer Learning in Orlando, FL (Nov. 11-13), and in his speech he hit on themes that not only resonated for the expanded-learning providers in the audience, but also captured some of the current zeitgeist in education reform. He made an eloquent case for individualized and differentiated learning, calling it a “logical fallacy” to argue that the same thing (i.e., content, instruction) for the same amount of time will work to bring every kid to the same level, when each kid starts out from a different place. And he encouraged those present to stop calling social-emotional skills “soft skills” and instead legitimize them alongside academic development with identifiable and measurable metrics.

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Summer Learning in Boston: Making it Fun, Making it Count

We’ve been hearing a lot this summer about retooled programs that are making learning fun for kids while combating the summer slide. Across the country, in cities from Jacksonville, Fla., to Oakland, CA, public school districts are partnering with nonprofit organizations to offer their students rich programming that combines rigorous academics with enrichment such as arts, outdoor exploration, and vocational experiences.

Last week CBASS had the chance to visit one such program. Thompson Island, located in Boston’s harbor and managed by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, is home to a variety of outdoor adventure and experiential learning programs for youth—including one participant in Boston’s Summer Learning Project. A collaborative initiative between Boston Public Schools, the Boston Opportunity Agenda, and Boston After School and Beyond, the Summer Learning Project draws on the resources of schools and community organizations to offer k-12 students opportunities to increase their academic achievement as well as build valuable skills for school and career success.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

What does summer learning look like in Boston? Well, for rising fourth-graders on Thompson Island, it includes a ferry ride, team building, and hands-on science learning. The day begins at 9 am, when school buses drop students off at the dock to be greeted by Boston Public Schools teachers and Outward Bound facilitators and ferried over to the island. As at all Summer Learning Project sites, students spend mornings buckling down on math and reading in classrooms, but in the afternoons they’re outdoors, working to balance as a group on a teeter-totter in the woods, or exploring the island with rangers from the National Park Service. The latter is particularly popular. With a diverse environment that includes bluffs, intertidal zones, and salt marshes, “every little ecosystem becomes a learning place,” says Arthur Pearson, president and CEO of Thompson Island Outward Bound.

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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.”