Looking for ways to stop the summer slide

For students who follow a traditional academic calendar, the summer can play one of two roles. It can be a bridge from the end of one school year to the next, or it can be a significant setback.

While students from affluent families tend to see gains in their reading skills following the summer, the typical American student loses about one month of learning in math and reading. Students from low-income families fare worse, losing about two months of learning in both subjects over the summer.

And although teachers spend the first few weeks of each school year re-teaching material taught during the previous spring, the core issue persists. The “summer slide” doesn’t end with Labor Day weekend. Rather, learning loss accumulates over time and is a major contributor to the growing achievement gap between youth from low- and high-income families.

According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, four out of every five students from low-income families fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade – making them four times more likely to drop out of high school.

If our goal is to prepare all students in Flint and Genesee County for success in school and beyond, we — parents, educators and community organizations — need to take a good look at what our students are doing from June through August.

We need to ask how we can best prioritize learning during the summer months. And we need to look for fun, engaging ways to do this.

At the Flint & Genesee Chamber, we gather student input for YouthQuest, a K-12 afterschool enrichment program that receives most of its support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

We ask questions like, “What interests you? What’s something you’ve never done before and would like to try?”

We then take their feedback and find ways to align it with the academic goals of our partnering school districts, including Flint Community Schools, Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools and International Academy of Flint.

Two years ago, our middle and high-school students expressed an interest in going to Cedar Point. We went for a weekend and provided students with the unique opportunity to learn about the laws of physics outside of a classroom.

That said, families don’t need to drive to Sandusky, Ohio to stop the summer slide. Every experience presents a learning opportunity. Cooking can help reinforce math skills. A visit to a local park offers the opportunity to read descriptive signs about wildlife and plants.

Additionally, Genesee County is fortunate to have a robust library system and several community organizations that provide free events that are both educational and family friendly.

The summer slide may be prevalent but – as long as we work together to provide a variety of creative resources and services for local youth — it is not inevitable.

To learn more about YouthQuest’s summer program, visit yquest.org.

Elizabeth S. Murphy is a Group Vice President at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.

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