The Crusader Newspaper Group

Break the cycle of summer learning loss for Black children

Vernon Williams 1By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader

With the advent of summer, like adults, children embrace the season as a time for recreation, relaxation, enjoyment; summer is far more play than work. Having been in education, it is undeniable that teachers need a break. So do students.

But how much time off is too much when study after study confirms the loss of what is taught during the school year over the summer months.

All students lose ground when they are away from the academic setting. Like most challenges, the problem is more acute for low-income learners and children of color whose loss in terms of reading acumen is a disturbing two to three-month drop in reading levels.

Already lagging behind, Black children can ill afford to lose any more ground. Research confirms that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than did they at the beginning of the seasonal break.

More affluent students actually improve in their reading skills over the summer researchers reveal, as a result of parental pressure and the summer learning opportunities provided.

Studies conducted by the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading report that low-income children also face health and nutrition setbacks over the summer, gaining weight two or three times more than during the academic year when school meals are provided. That negative combination of mental and physical decline during summer is serious. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time “re-teaching” at the start of the next year.

Poor and so-called minority children comprise a disproportionate percentage of summer school and remedial programs while they are a relatively scant percentage as a whole in educational enrichment programs during the summer.

Three out of four of America’s school children are not participating in summer learning programs, according to a special report on Student Learning in Summer conducted by the Wallace Foundation. The number is startlingly low given the knowledge of how the break hurts children.

Summer should not be allowed to simply continuing broadening the gap between the skills of Black students and their counterparts of other races. This is your problem, whether you have school-age children or not. The lack of opportunities for learning only pushes students to less preparedness and enthusiasm for school.

The increasing number of students who give up as soon as they are old enough to drop out, or who continue but are failing at every level, raises the threat of social misbehavior and despair – contributing nothing positive to the quality of life or prospects of fulfilling dreams among that neglected population.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, each summer students slide back by 25 percent on an average of reading skills. Researchers for the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Conference report that an average student loses 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in Math computation skills during the summer.

The problem is worse for Black males, who are far more likely to be disciplined or out of class, suspended, and expelled. Expectations for achievement are lowest of Black males and the lack of roles models in the classroom exacerbates the dilemma. Reading is key.

We must make sure more opportunities are provided. There are several ways to address the situation, wherever you live, without requiring an act of Congress – just immediate action on all of our parts. We have an obligation to be as creative and diligent in this pursuit as necessary. Here are a few things that can easily be done:

  1. Focus on development and implementation of more summer programs specifically designed to provide access to low-income children – highlighting literacy, math and science. Volunteer educators at neighborhood centers can make it work.
  2. Get children involved in library summer reading programs that exist in almost every community. This not only helps sustain learning but encourages students to fall in love with books.
  3. Organize neighborhood book reading clubs – using portions of schools that can be made available.
  4. Better utilize church facilities for learning opportunities for children whose families attend the congregation or reside in the immediate community – weekdays, Saturdays and perhaps as a feature of Sunday School.
  5. Everyone has to assume responsibility. This is a true “it takes a village” situation. Parents, uncles, aunts, friends of the family have to begin taking turns encouraging young people by reading to them or letting them read to you.

Let’s take the issue or summer learning for Black children far more seriously and do whatever is required to fill in the gap and sustain learning throughout the year.

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].


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