Peter Burrows: Summer part of education answer
The end of the school year is always of time of reflection, after the frenetic and celebratory air that surrounds graduation, awards ceremonies, and year-end community events. As an educator, you become accustomed to this cycle, of stewarding students throughout the year and then letting go, and there is an almost hushed silence around our schools as the wave of excitement, learning, and social interaction recedes, as it gathers strength to return in August.
In school visits throughout the last month, I’ve been talking to students about summer plans and where they are going. The range of responses has been varied. One student is going on an expedition overseas. Another student is attending camps throughout the summer for athletics. Some students said they had no idea what they would be doing over the course of the summer, but were just happy to be at summer.
In the United States, we’ve typically viewed summer as “non-school time,” particularly with our agrarian history. However, in looking more deeply at the impact of summer on the learning outcomes for students, it’s clear that we need to rethink this perspective. For some of our students, summer will be a time of slipping back educationally, which is termed “summer slide” in the research literature. There have been countless studies exploring the impact of summer vacation and its effect on the growing opportunity gap witnessed across our country. An example is the 2007 longitudinal study from Alexander, Entwisle, and Olson, which explored summer reading loss. The study found that low-income and middle-income students in Baltimore made similar progress during the year, but the low-income students fell behind over the summer, which researchers determined was ultimately responsible for two-thirds of the reading achievement gap measured in 9th grade. This is a significant loss.
In Addison County, we have considerable community resources to engage students during the summer months, but we need to do a better job within our communities of connecting those resources to families. A major initiative over the course of the next years in Addison Central will be the formation of a Community Partnership Council that can help us leverage these resources and provide a more direct link between school and community to be sure that all students are receiving the access to quality food and educational experiences to prepare them for success as they move towards a life of civic engagement, responsibility, and financial stability.
Typically, as the dust settles on the school year, we see the summer as a time to plan and prepare, but I believe that we would do better to think differently about this time of year and the school year in general, to encompass summer in the same way we do the months of the academic year. This is a change in focus from tradition, but I think it’s imperative if we hope to truly engage all of our students and their capacity to learn. We know that the line we’ve historically drawn between school and family has grown faint, and we can do well by all of our students to partner with families and our communities to work together to make the summer a meaningful part of the educational journey we are stewarding together.
Peter Burrows, D.Ed., is superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union and has more than two decades of experience in education.
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