By RICHARD D. CALVERT
During the summer, there is a real danger that children can lose educational ground while they spend several months away from school. This is a consequence of unstructured summers widely known as the "summer learning loss."
Experts believe students of all backgrounds tend to lose about one month of their math and reading gains from the prior academic year each summer.
Some researchers have found that summer learning losses are the main cause of wide achievement gaps between low-income minority and their middle-income white counter parts.
Low-income students are disproportionately affected by summer learning loss. On average, low-income students lose two months of reading skills, with losses accumulating over multiple summers.
The summer program at the B.P. Learned Mission of Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut is very a comprehensive program for children in first through fifth grades that provides a safe, nurturing environment, where children can grow and develop during time away from school.
Some of the activities provided are:
Daily theme-based enrichment activities: Activities are planned based on weekly themes and target development in the arts, science and math, literacy, writing, interpersonal development and positive communication skills, physical development, music, etc. For example, one week this summer children will be taking an adventure "Around the World in 14 Days" where they will learn about different continents and countries.
Reading program/activities: Many studies have shown that children's reading levels can decline during the summer months if they are not reading. To make reading an enjoyable activity BP implements several initiatives. Non-competitive incentives and rewards for reading in the form of BP "Bucks" that can be exchanged weekly for prizes from a BP "Store." Book clubs are offered where children can read age-appropriate books with their peers, volunteers and staff members. Supplemental reading materials are made available to go with enrichment activities.
Theater Program: BP produces three musical productions each year. One of these is produced during the summer months. Children are involved in all aspects of the production process.
Gardening: Children plant, tend, and harvest fruits and vegetables from nine garden beds over the summer months. They also learn how to cook with the produce that is grown.
Sports and Recreation: Children participate in cooperative and organized sports games. They are taught sportsmanship and the value of working together.
Educational Field Trips: Children have the chance to go on numerous field trips throughout the summer. These are connected to themes and subjects they learn about throughout the summer. Not only does this give children the chance to have a hands-on view of the world but they are taught about positive behavior in public and respecting the space of places we visit.
The goal in planning activities is not just to have children complete "busy work." It is to engage them in goal-oriented activities that are enjoyable but have clear academic, social, and emotional benefits.
All education programs benefit from meaningful parental engagement. We at the B.P. Learned Mission believe summer learning programs are no different. We aim to involve parents by encouraging children to participate in "mission activities" even at home. Many bring their scripts or CDs with show music on them home so they can practice with their parents and siblings. We have seen that this has increased literacy development even further.
According to a 2004 study, "The longitudinal effects of multi-year summer school," by Geoffrey D. Borman and N. Maritza Dowling, attending high-quality summer programs for multiple years can help close the achievement gap. We believe that the children who participate in the B.P. Learned Mission Summer Program of Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut benefit from the opportunities to learn and practice essential skills that will give them the tools to thrive academically and socially.
Richard D. Calvert is the chief operating officer of the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut. You can reach the agency at 860-443-2896.