As published in the April 2010 edition of Utah Family Magazine.
Summer School: A Venue to Fulfill Many Needs
Joyce Sibbett, Ph.D.
President, Dancing Moose Montessori School
Associate Professor of Education, Westminster College
Summer school is distinct from the regular school year. Children need and deserve a change in routine. Nevertheless, summer serves a critical purpose for children to continue to reinforce skills and acquire new understandings. It is a perfect time for children to participate in more relaxed activities that integrate skills across the curriculum. Ideally, children should
• Be engaged in a variety of creative arts that apply across the curriculum, including, art, music, drama, and dance.
• Enjoy activities that are unique to summer. For areas of cold winter climates, this should include ample time to enjoy warmer outdoor activities.
• Have opportunities to visit local sites that intrigue them.
• Engage in social learning, such as playing games with their peers.
• Read books as part of their daily routine.
On the opposite spectrum, summer can be a time when children become bored, and achievement gaps widen. According to Rothstein (2006), achievement gaps grow the most during summer vacations when middle-class children have experiences—reading books, going to camp, visiting museums, and traveling—that reinforce their school-year learning, while lower-class children fall behind. Summer school provides an opportunity to narrow achievement gaps by providing comparable experiences. Rothstein further emphasizes that art, music, drama, dance, and physical education teachers should be more numerous in summer than in the regular academic year.
While summer school is often a resource for working parents who do not want to leave a child at home, bored, and at risk of finding trouble, it is also an ideal resource for parents who want to retain and bolster learning and skills developed during the school. This goal may be more important than ever in the current climate of federally-mandated testing of No Child Left Behind. Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Educational Policy, suggests that summer has moved from a remediation program to a focused skill-building program, especially in reading and math. He states that it is "becoming more focused on developing academic skills, plus test-taking skills" (Buchanan, 2007).
School districts have new incentives for providing summer programs. The guidelines of No Child Left Behind require districts to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, and summer school can be a good resource for helping students to improve scores and schools to meet their benchmarks. This is not unique to Utah; school districts across the country are taking advantage of the summer months as an opportunity to supplement regular academic programs.
Some summer programs are specifically targeted at reviewing core subjects of reading and math; others are more generally designed to complement core standards. Both approaches are viable for helping students retain and bolster knowledge, but summer school is a perfect time to integrate subjects in project-oriented curriculum that has a different "feel" from the regular academic year. As Rischer (2009) comments, the summer school environment should be "much different from the regular school year....Students attending summer school need more one-on-one, teacher-supported instruction." This is true for children of all ages, but it is critical for early childhood programs.
An example of this project approach to summer school is the Dancing Moose Montessori School curriculum, which organizes the summer program in units that include thematic field trips. Children learn from a variety of resources that emphasize art, music movement, and creativity with field trips that enhance their understanding. The day is scheduled with plenty of outdoor activities that invite children to explore nature and participate in summer-exclusive work like gardening. Children have ample opportunity to read and do math activities, but these activities are accomplished in conjunction with the thematic units. They are important learning opportunities for all children, but they are especially important for children whose family might not have the time or opportunity to provide these opportunities outside of the school setting. While the activities do not directly teach to national tests, they provide opportunities for children to remain active, engaged, and productive. Children strengthen academic skills as they build their self confidence and love for learning. A key ingredient to success is a low student-to-teacher ratio.
Summer school should be an attractive option for children—something they can look forward to. It should also be attractive for parents as an investment in learning and growth for their children while they are having fun. The one thing summer school should not be is a poorly-staffed place where children are bored and disengaged. As the summer months approach, it is a good idea for families to look closely at programs that entice children by appealing to their interests.
Buchanan, B. (2007). The boys and girls of summer: Does summer school really work? (2007) Education Digest 73 (1) pp. 31-35.
Education Digest (0013-127X)
Rischer, A. (2009). Strategies for a successful summer school program. The Education Digest 74(9) pp. 34-36.
Education Digest (0013-127X)
Rothstein, R. (2006). Reforms that could help narrow the achievement gap. WestEd. San Francisco, California.