For students across America, summer break is synonymous with freedom, fun and sunshine. Unfortunately for schools and teachers, it also means the notorious “summer slide” is taking its toll before students return to the classroom.
The term “summer slide” describes the loss in learning many students experience over the summer in reading and math. According to a Brookings Institution report last September, student achievement scores decline over the summer break by the equivalent of one-month’s worth of school-year learning – and historically disadvantaged student groups typically feel the loss more sharply than others, exacerbating existing achievement gaps.
That’s why schools, families and communities across the country recognize National Summer Learning Day, which elevates the importance of providing high-quality summer learning opportunities for students. Summer Learning Day is a chance to highlight great summer programs, especially those that offer students from low-income backgrounds a place to keep learning and accessing important resources.
And charter schools around the country are stepping up to fill the summer void.
For example, Bronx Charter School for the Arts, which received startup funding from the Walton Family Foundation, offers a four-week summer program targeted to students whose test scores during the school year indicate they are most at risk for learning loss during the summer months. Bronx Arts is located in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, a vibrant community of diverse New Yorkers who reside in the poorest Congressional district in the country.
The summer program at Bronx Arts serves about 50 students including incoming kindergarteners through rising sixth graders. Bronx Arts invites all incoming Kindergarteners to get an early start assessing their readiness and orienting them socially. Rising first through rising sixth grade students participate in small groups with a strong focus on ELA and Math to ensure students are prepared for the school’s rigorous academic curriculum and state testing throughout the year. School leaders believe it’s important to meet their students and families where they are, which means thinking creatively about summer programming.
Students participating in the summer program continue with arts instruction in addition to the academic curriculum.
“Bronx Arts students consistently and significantly outperform their district, city and state peers on standardized tests. We believe—and research indicates—that their success is in part due to the effectiveness of arts programming which allows students to experience academics through and alongside the arts and encourages their social and emotional acclimation into the school community. As educators, we want to provide every opportunity for them to maintain those gains,” says Jonea Thomas, Principal of Bronx Arts Elementary.
Bronx Arts students who don’t attend summer programming are still encouraged to continue their reading year-round. All students maintain weekly reading logs, which they can complete on their own or with family. In the 2017-18 school year, the school-wide goal was to collectively read 5,000 books.
By the time school let out in June, students had far exceeded the goal, logging over 25,000 books. Because research has shown that students lose up to 15 percent of their academic gains over summer months, Bronx Arts also purchases hundreds of books to send home with students each summer. Students are involved in selecting titles to ensure they are interested and engaged.
In Atlanta, Charles R. Drew Charter School, which received foundation support to expand into high school, consistently offers a broad range unique summer learning opportunities. The school is among the city’s top-ranked public schools and test scores show that they’re among the best at serving students of color and students from low-income backgrounds in both the city and state.
Summer learning is a key component of that success. Whether it’s connecting students with great summer programming at local colleges and universities or offering the school’s own built-out academic programs, Drew aims to ensure students keep learning and growing in creative and rigorous ways year-around.
For example, the school hosts a weeklong Summer Harp Camp presented by the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble and Drew Charter School with support from Georgia State University. The camp is an intensive and fun summer experience, welcoming students from fifth through twelfth grade to play one of the most ancient instruments.
The Summer Harp Camp has grown each year and currently serves 20 students – 14 of whom are from Drew. Each day at camp, students gain knowledge of music history, career skills, music theory, and music therapy while also receiving harp instruction and playing various styles of music. The unique program is an example of the variety that charter schools across the country can offer their students.
Great summer programming is a natural extension of charter schools’ mission to provide innovative learning opportunities for students.
Summer break cannot become a summer loss – especially for our most vulnerable students. Charter schools can and should be at the forefront of fighting the summer slide and the achievement gaps that result from it – so let’s start by calling out the problem, sharing out great ideas and implementing solutions where we can.