School’s out for the Summer!

By Linda Caricaburu

As the school year drew to a close, the calls started coming in from anxious parents.

Their child struggled with reading. Or math. Or both. Could they please sign up for summer school?  Great Falls Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Ruth Uecker says she and school principals get calls every spring from parents wanting to enroll children in summer school. They are heartbreaking conversations.

“Parents are looking for extra support,” she said. “Summer school used to be an option, and students learned from highly qualified teachers.”

When voters started turning down school mill levies 10 years ago, summer school was among the casualties. The expense of summer payroll, curriculum and materials were hard to justify when schools were losing regular classroom teachers.

School districts across the country offer summer classes to address what’s known as summer slide.  That’s the loss of knowledge that occurs in a child between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next.

shallow focus photography of girl sitting on chair drawing on her paper on top of the table

For decades, Great Falls had programs across the district for hundreds of elementary and middle school students.  They’d spend half a day for six weeks working with teachers to reinforce reading and math concepts taught during the year.  The program kept kids engaged with small groups and hands-on learning experiences.

Valley View Elementary principal Rachel Cutler, one of the Summer Learning Camp coordinators, saw results first-hand and collected feedback from grateful parents, students and teachers.

“My daughter now notices words EVERYWHERE! It is so exciting!” “We were concerned with our son’s confidence.  Camp certainly helped with that! Thanks.”  “I improved my reading and math and felt good about it.” “I did not know how to do fractions, and now I do!” “I saw amazing growth. It is the only time the kids get one-on-one attention.”

“We saw sustained learning,” Cutler said.  “It really helped build the confidence of kids who were struggling if they could start the next school year at a higher level.”

Above slide shows a typical student experiencing “summer slide”. 

Statistics about summer slide are downright scary:

On average, students lose a month’s worth of learning over the summer.
That loss jumps to two months for low-income students.  Nearly half of Great Falls students are lower income.
Students entering fourth grade lose 20 percent of their school year gains in reading and 27 percent in math over the summer.
Students entering eighth grade lose 36 percent of their gains in reading and 50 percent in math.
pile of assorted-title books

Each fall teachers spend anywhere from three to six weeks in review as they try to ensure that all the students in their class get back up to speed.  It’s frustrating for all students forced to go over familiar material, and it’s lost opportunity for those who don’t need the review.

Along with summer school, Great Falls also lost Hip Hop, the afterschool learning catch-up program, and other classroom support when levies were defeated.  All the losses hit lower income students hardest.

There are no plans to bring back summer school or any of the lost programs.  In fact, unless future mill levies are supported, we can count on more cuts.

Our children and our community need your help to prevent further erosion of our schools.  Stay informed and share the message that Great Falls schools are worth supporting.

Keeping kids reading and doing math over the summer requires thoughtful, engaged parents and caregivers.  Children without that support will continue to suffer the worst summer slide.

What can you do to help prevent summer slide in your children?Keep them reading.  Ditch the screens and get books in their hands.  Visit the library or bookmobile and talk to children about what they’re reading. Have kids write stories or letters about their summer experiences – or fantasy experiences.  (See next week’s KEY blog for information on the Super Summer Read 6 program.)

brown pencil on equation paper

The summer loss of math skills is even greater, so be creative in using math.

• Play math-focused games such as Yahtzee, Blokus, Monopoly, cards or chess.
• Give younger kids access to blocks and jigsaw puzzles for spatial skills.
letter block toy
• Reinforce basic concepts by having kids measure cooking ingredients, count change or watch sports and calculate player or team statistics.  Have them measure every room in the house and calculate the total space.
• Use maps to plot real or dream trips, calculating distances and drive time.
• Send children to camp or programs that keep their minds and bodies active.

Also, check out these sites for more ideas: