WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As students slip into their summer vacations, it's up to families to make sure they don't slip into academic amnesia. Usually, in what is called the summer slide, students forget up to six months of math and reading instruction when they're not engaged in academic activities between school years.
"[Summer slide] is a huge problem. And it's exacerbated for low-income and minority students," says Matthew Mugo Fields, a Morehouse University alumnus who holds a double-masters in business and education from Harvard University. "The research I've seen says that nearly half of the achievement gap can be explained by the difference in summer learning between low-income students and their counterparts.
Fields thinks he has the solution to halting that slide. He hopes to bridge the gap with Rocket Group, an education company he founded. His programs for schools and parents blend technology, face-to-face instruction, and specialized teaching based on groundbreaking, yet obscure research from Stanford University.
Teach Your Pre-Schooler to Count to 10
Tammy Drayton is an early childhood teacher in Newark, N.J. Even kindergarten students are expected to know a few things at the start of school, such as counting to 10, colors, shapes, and the days of the week, she says. When such lessons are new or lost to them, the impact is clear.
"We might have to do more one-on-one work with [that student]," she said. "But it may affect their social skills. Because if they realize they're not on the level of other kids, they tend to pull away and shut down. They feel different, in a sense."
High School Matters
Summer slide affects older students, too, and the stakes are much higher. In high school, there are fewer interventions and opportunities to relearn lost information, and students can become discouraged with their performance – internally and through the actions of teachers and administrators.
In this way, summer slide can even lead to dropping out.
Teachers also talk about "summer melt," which is when high school seniors on track for college do not successfully make that transition to post-secondary education.
The Department of Education estimates that up to 20 percent of high school graduates are lost this way, most of them students of color.
"Preparation is a factor, but not the guiding factor of whether a student will be college-bound," says David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. "The belief...if they can even go to college diminishes, if they are not supported over time."
Parents are the Key
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is currently working on combating these summer losses. Although it is still gathering data, it's clear that parental involvement is one of the most important factors in academic achievement across years, for students of all ages.
"It's important to acknowledge that the first and most important educator in a child's life is his or her parents. One of the challenges is engaging parents to supplement learning for their scholars," says Johns.
"Often the way we think of learning is that it's for school only, it happens in the classroom within the school day. But educational development...happens throughout the calendar year."
Drayton says that in her kindergarten classroom, parents' efforts are more important than the personalized schoolwork packets her school sends home with students.
"My students left me today, and I gave them a list of books along with a summer packet. I don't necessarily rely on the packets [to determine if slide has occurred]," she says. "It affects [students] based on if they worked with a parent, and it all depends on if they had practice or continuing education in the summer."
Use the Library and Read Every Day
Johns explains that income is the strongest predictor of summer slide. More affluent families have the money, job flexibility, and connections to keep their children engaged with programs, gadgets, and enriching experiences throughout the year.
Other families, who may lack time, money, and access, have to get resourceful in supplementing their child's education.
"Go to the library – it's free. Dollar stores sell books, and places like the Salvation Army sometimes gives away books," Drayton recommends. "Read something with your child every day. It's essential to build literacy skills over the summer."
Gifted and Talented
For parents and guardians, Fields offers GiftedandTalented.com, which provides personalized academic supplements and one-on-one tutoring via video chat. The supplements are designed to give all students access to the high-quality resources found in traditional gifted and talented classes, regardless of the student's placement in school. There are free activities on the site, but income-based scholarships and financial assistance is also available to take advantage of the site's complete offerings.
"I aspire to get many more students to embrace the idea that 'gifted and talented' is a destination, it's something you can become, not just something you're born as," Fields says, also recommending the library and recreation centers to prevent summer slide.
"We are in the golden age of technology and education – there are things people can access with any kind of device to keep students engaged. Use the summer to get ahead."
Singing and Playing Helps
Johns suggests singing, reading, and playing with younger students to keep their minds sharp, and planning in advance and setting achievable goals for more independent kids. The Department of Education also recommends helping high school students create post-graduation prep checklists, and allowing them to job shadow a parent or relative, or encouraging them to volunteer if they cannot find a job for themselves.
"Create a summer intervention plan. Ensure every day they can preserve their knowledge," he says. "Sometimes we make this more complicated than it has to be. There's a role every person can play to make these learning connections, whether grandma reads to them, or dad takes them to the museum, or someone counts money with them. Everyone can be an important part of learning for our scholars."