Opinion: Helping youngsters gain, rather than give ground over the summer

Elk River, Rogers and Otsego educators recently offered several suggestions for families to help overcome “summer learning loss.” Sometimes families forget that young people can lose between two and five months over the summer in key areas of reading and math, unless families step in. Youngsters can have plenty of fun and still gain, rather than give ground, over the summer.
Erin Talley, principal at Otsego Elementary, wrote, “We are currently in AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) status, so it is critical that this message of the summer slide gets to our folks. Parents are key to what makes a great student and a great school. Parents and students have been encouraged to read through the summer and we are keeping the library open once a week (with teacher volunteers) in a community that only has a school library. We help to provide the tools and the motivation for students and families (to) succeed in reading, which is the ultimate key to success.
“Last Wednesday, we had 80 kids check out books and about 150 total attended the summer library kick-off. Teachers and families brought animals and the ponies were a big hit and were brought in for the last half hour by the Martinson family. Our theme is mystery next week for the library program, from1 to 3 p.m. The school will be offering special programs each Wednesday.”
Jason Paurus, principal at Rogers Middle School, explained:
1. “All it takes is Four. By reading four or more books over the summer, kids can avoid the ‘summer slide,’ or gap in academic skills, when they return to school in the fall.
2. “Let them choose. According to a Scholastic survey, 91 percent of kids are more likely to finish books they choose themselves.
3.“Top of the tests: Kids who read a million words a year score in the top 2 percent on standardized tests like our MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments). A million words sounds like a lot, but it’s only about 25 average-length novels.
4.“Big vocabularies. Kids learn 4,000 to 12,000 new words every year reading. That means three months without books can make a huge difference in their vocabularies and test scores.”
Marcia Welch, principal at VandenBerge Middle School in Elk River, recommended:
•“Be a good example. Make sure to set aside silent reading time in the day and turn off the television. As the parent, you also have to read alongside your child during this silent reading period. Allow them to choose what they want to read and read together for a certain period of time. Ensure that there is an ample amount of reading material in your home.
•“Go to the library on a regular basis. Enroll in summer reading activities at your local library. Bring home your child’s favorite books.
•“Have your child become a pen pal to a friend at school. Buy postcards, pens, etc. and have your child start writing to a friend at school through the mail versus the Internet.”
Welch wisely concludes, “The key is consistent reading, writing and speaking throughout the summer with the adults that matter in a young person’s life.” — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He welcomes reactions at [email protected])

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