Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
With the start of a new school year looming, parents across the region are scrambling to ensure that their children are prepared for success in school. That may be easier said than done. For many, particularly poor, minority students, overcoming the effects of the so called “summer slide” could prove to be their biggest hurdle to achievement this school year.
The summer slide represents the loss in learning that occurs when students are not engaged in scholastic, academically enriching activities for a prolonged period. By the end of summer vacation, the average student loses approximately a month’s worth of learning acquired from the previous year. But students who were below grade level at the beginning of summer, especially minority children, retain far less than those who were initially performing at grade level.
This vexing issue has not gone unnoticed. Considerable attention has been paid and efforts launched to address it.
In a 2010 interview on the “Today” show, President Obama addressed the summer slide calling for a longer school year saying, “students are losing far too much of what they learn during the school year during the summer.” Later, first lady Michelle Obama, launched United We Serve: “Let’s Read: Let’s Move,” an initiative to address summer learning loses.
A 2011 report by the RAND Corporation entitled “Making Summer Count” found test results show that low-income students lost significant ground over the summer while their higher-income counterparts actually made gains in reading and math.
And the impact is cumulative. A 2007 Johns Hopkins University study found that by ninth grade, about two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading, for example, can be attributed to summer learning loss that took place in the first five years of schooling.
Nationally, there have been three approaches aimed at preventing summer learning loss: modifying the school calendar, extending the school year and providing summer school.
But what can parents, faced with just a few days before school starts, do to help get their kids ready? Here are four things to get kids’ creative juices flowing.
1. Start a blog — Connect with friends and discuss the upcoming school year. There is no better way to enhance reading and writing skills than to engage through your child’s own blog.
2.Build a game — Game building is a very creative approach to science and math that allows kids to be innovative and work independently or with friends. This activity is great for developing problem solving skills.
3. Visit Storyline online — This online video program features Screen Actors Guild members, such as James Earl Jones, Tia Mowry and Al Gore, reading books aloud, an excellent way to refresh reading and comprehension skills.
4.Build a robot — Stimulate your child mathematically and scientifically with this activity. It is very child-friendly and good for all levels.
The ideas are endless. There is no shortage of programs and ideas designed to ensure that our kids can remain intellectually active year round. We can no longer expect that the school system, alone, can keep our students from sliding backward over the summer months.
The truth is that school systems nationally are struggling financially and have been forced to cut many enrichment programs typically offered during the summer. These cuts disproportionately impact students in low-income, urban communities.
Parents are faced with serious decisions about how to dramatically increase the amount of time their children spend learning independently outside of school hours. This must be a key strategy if we are to erase the academic achievement gap that persists to plague African-American children in our nation’s schools.
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