8:50 a.m. PDT June 27, 2016
For years, summer school has been thought of as remedial.
But according to Matthew Boulay, founder of the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) and resident of Salem, summer learning is actually crucial for students’ academic growth.
“Growing up, learning is a 12-month endeavor,” he said.
Earlier this month, Boulay published his book, “Summers Matter: 10 Things Every Parent, Teacher, & Principal Should Know About June, July, & August.”
He said the purpose of the book is to provide tangible, easy-to-follow activities and ideas to parents and educators to continue learning during the summer.
Boulay said about 97 percent of the 50 million students who go to school are on a nine-month calendar, but summer learning loss is particularly detrimental to traditionally marginalized groups.
“Summer is the most unequal time,” he said.
About one-fourth of all students are considered to be living in poverty, he said. Research shows about two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be attributed to unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, according to the National Summer Learning Association.
While not in the classroom over the summer, according to the association, most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math computation skills and low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement.
Without mental and intellectual stimulation during the summer, students experience the “summer slide,” also known as “summer learning loss” or “summer slipping.”
Although some students will only slide a little and be able to recuperate when they return in the fall, some students are at greater risk of losing what they learned and not being able to recover.
Students who do not have access to books in the home, the ability to travel to a library, the ability to take part in a summer camp or program or other learning opportunities will slide further.
Additionally, only one-sixth of students on free and reduced lunch during the year will have access to provided meals over the summer, Boulay said, so it is important summer learning is paired with healthy diet options as well.
The push for summer learning is part of a national movement.
The White House has been involved in a large push for summer learning, working to provide meals and academics to children who would be particularly hurt by the summer slide.
Boulay said this is the first time the federal government really highlighted the importance of summer learning.
Boulay presented the analogy of athletes’ off seasons.
When they are not in the middle of a heated season, they have varied workouts and goals to accomplish to stay prepared for the season. It is a different style of athletics, but consistent training nonetheless.
Boulay said summer learning should be thought of similarly.
Boulay specified that he is not talking about year-round schooling.
“Summer is time to engage in active learning, internships, travels, trips to museums, etc.,” he said. “That is the time to do things you want to do, but don’t have time for in the year.”
For people worried about expenses, Boulay said, there are many online tools and programs that are free to use.
Boulay suggested parents continue whatever pattern and processes they follow during the school year. For example, if a parent makes sure to read at night, set a bedtime, limit screen time, go over times tables before bedtime, or so on, he suggested they continue those practices during the summer.
For educators, Boulay encourages teachers and principals to speak with parents about their options for the summer, saying more people find out about opportunities because “(their) teacher told (them).”
Another suggestion Boulay is pushing for is to keep school libraries open during the summer.
Some groups, such as the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation are working to have some local school libraries open for a minimum of one day a week.
Boulay’s book is meant to be fun, and not hard to accomplish, he said.
He said as soon as he started writing the book, his wife told him, “Don’t make it one more thing for overworked moms to feel guilty about.”
While it can be difficult for parents who don’t have summers off, Boulay recommended programs like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club where students can be engaged, socialize, and get healthy snacks.
Boulay said it is “inconceivable we ignore our children’s needs for three months a year.”
Like a faucet, he said, “every investment we make into our kids gets turned off during summer.”
Why don’t we have year-round schooling?
By the turn of the century, it was embraced as an answer for many of the same problems schools face today, such as overcrowding, funding shortages and improving the education process.
But the year-round school movement also has a long history of failure and opposition, according to Summer Matters.
“Research on the year-round calendar by The National Education Association in a report released in 1958 found every school system that had attempted a 12-month calendar up to that point eventually abandoned it,” according to Summer Matters. “The reasons communities dumped it back then are the same reasons they dump year-round school today: Year-round schooling is disruptive to family life, provides little or no academic benefit and saves schools little or no money–and can even cost much more.”
The revival of the year-round school movement in the late 1960s is a result of several dynamics at work in the post-World War II era, according to Summer Matters. There were various other pushes throughout history, including a push for year-round school in states including Oregon, Colorado and California in the 1990s.
However, as reservations persisted, schools continued with more traditional calendars that left students out of school months out of the year.
According to the Oregon School Boards Association, Oregon students spend about 166 days in class on average, two weeks less than the national average.
The latest research suggests students who are in year-round schooling typically do as well, if not better than their peers.
The state of California’s Department of Education claims year-round schools’ third-graders had an average increase of 9.5 percent on standardized tests and 13.3 percent in reading scores, according to K12 Academics.
At this point, it seems year-round schooling may be back on the horizon, but only if voters and public officials see the benefits outweighing the shortcomings.
Summer options in Salem include:
Oregon ASK, 503-689-1656, oregonask.org/summer-learning/
YMCA, 685 Court St NE, (503) 581-9622, theyonline.org
Boys & Girls Club of Salem, 1395 Summer Street NE, 503-581-7383, bgc-salem.org