Column: The summer slump?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 5, 2015

By Dr. Michael Waiksnis and Dr. Latoya Dixon

Knox Middle School co-principals 

Summer break is a long and guarded tradition in America.

Many students eagerly anticipate the end of the year and the long break from school. It is almost viewed as a staple of American life, mostly because it is what we did as kids as well.

For some children this can be a time for travel, exciting learning adventures, trips to the local library and more. However, for other kids, this is an unstructured time with little to no opportunity for educational experiences.

While many of us hold a romanticized version of summer break in our minds, it is interesting to look at what this extended break from school does to the academic progress of our children.

There is a wealth of research on summer learning. We have done extensive research on this and the research is clear – most students lose academic ground over the summer. To be more specific, all students generally lose ground in math.

It becomes more interesting when we turn to reading. Students who are from middle and upper class homes tend to remain steady on their reading skills over the summer. They do not typically gain any ground, but they do not lose any ground, either.

However, when you look at the data for children of poverty, it is different. These students typically lose between one and a half to three months of academic ground in reading each summer. Compound this loss year after year, and it becomes apparent where the achievement gap comes from and how it grows.

As we learn more we should wonder if the summer vacation is worth this yearly loss.

While the research is crystal clear on summer learning loss, it is not as clear on what to do about it.

There has been positive success shown from programs that are consistent with the academic focus of the school, closely supervised and monitored, well thought out and planned in advance and engaging for the students. We think this time should not simply be an extension of school, but rather a time to engage students in academic work that is focused, hands-on and exciting.

Our daily after school program started this semester. This will give us extra time to guide our students to academic success. When students are behind academically, time on task is key to recovery. This program is free to our students and was funded by a donation from a very supportive citizen.

We plan to continue this effort through a summer program for our students at Knox. We believe our students need more time to catch up to their peers, learn new skills and develop new interests. We know the academic achievement gap grows every year and summer learning loss is a major cause for this widening.

Our vision is for our summer camp to offer students a supportive environment to continue their education over the long summer break. It will be exciting, hands-on and focused on academic success. We know students need more time on task and our summer camp will bring us closer to our goal.

It is important to note that our summer program will be optional for our kids, and we will be limited in the number of students we can serve due to funding.

We are looking for potential sponsors for our program – the more money we raise will directly determine the length of the program and the number of students who can participate.

We are also looking for partners who may be able to assist with some of the hands-on learning components we would like to offer. Do you own a dance or karate studio? Do you offer lessons in music or art? Our goal is to create a program that is academics-focused and allows our kids to gain valuable experiences they might not be able to otherwise.

If you are interested in possibly sponsoring or helping with the summer program at Knox, call Dr. Waiksnis and Dr. Dixon at 704-633-2922.