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A Sunny Proposal for Student Success from the National Summer Learning Association

By Erin Flynn Jay
Why Summer Learning Matters
NSLA founder Matthew Boulay, Ph.D.

Dozens of studies show that children need to continue to read and learn during the summer to avoid the learning loss known as “summer slide.” Matthew Boulay, PhD, founder of the National Summer Learning Association, believes that partnerships between parents and teachers are absolutely essential during the summer months.

Summer learning loss can impact year-round student achievement

“To what extent are parents, teachers, and principals at this time of year — May and June — worried about summer learning loss of their own students and children, and preparing some sort of a plan?” he asked. “There has been an increase in awareness but we have a long way to go.”

A new book from the National Summer Learning Association offers solutions for educators and parents

The National Summer Learning Association has just published a book on summer learning for teachers, administrators, and parents. Summers Matter: 10 Things Every Parent, Teacher, & Principal Should Know About June, July, & August discusses the impact of summer learning loss on students and teachers and provides evidence that giving all students access to educational activities during the summer may be key to closing the achievement gap.

“While we have traditionally worked with programs, districts, and states, ‘Summers Matter’ is part of a major new effort to connect directly with teachers and parents,” said Boulay. The book is easy to read and contains suggestions for summer learning that are no-cost or low-cost.

Teachers play a crucial role as summer education ‘information brokers’

The role of teachers as information brokers is critical during the summer months. A major challenge facing teachers is that parental awareness of summer learning loss is still relatively low. By talking with parents about why summer educational activities are important, teachers can have enormous influence.

Boulay said to ask parents who are actively guiding their children’s learning over the summer where they got the idea. “One mother of a second grader is having her child do a diary,” he said. “I asked how she heard about this; she said it was the teacher.”

Reaching out to parents is key to preventing ‘summer slide’

“The extent [to] which teachers are aware of summer learning loss themselves, are aware of resources at their school and community, and are helping parents to navigate their plans for the summer — that is really important,” Boulay continued.

One school in Oregon hosts a “Float Into Summer” night, where parents attend presentations around summer learning loss. Organizations like libraries, summer meal programs, and the YMCA provide summer learning resources as well.

“There is a real effort to reach out to those parents at this time of year and stress that learning over the summer is important,” said Boulay.

High-needs students and families struggle to access summer learning resources

Education activities available to low-income households are generally fewer and less during the summer months. Boulay cited a recent conversation with a mother who wanted to give her son swimming lessons. She didn’t have money to pay for them, but the community offered free lessons on two successive Saturdays. She got in line and had to wait for four hours.

Boulay believes the woman’s ordeal is a good example of the dearth of summer learning resources available to low-income families. In contrast, high-income parents might be able to send their children to a robotics camp.

The NSLA provides free materials for teachers, works to increase summer learning access for all students

For more than 20 years, the NSLA has worked to increase access to high-quality summer experiences for low-income children and youth from kindergarten to college. The nonprofit organization does this by:

  • Raising awareness of the need for and benefits of programs
  • Building capacity of providers to deliver high-quality programs
  • Strengthening summer learning policies

One of the NSLA’s chief goals is to provide free materials to tens of thousands of teachers in schools around the country over the summer.

Building nationwide awareness of summer education needs

According to Boulay, the National Summer Learning Association is the sole organization whose mission is to build awareness and support for summer learning on a national level. “The overall context is that very few dollars are spent on summer learning relative to the amount of money spent during the school year,” he said. “For the school year, they might be one or two percent of the budget.”

“We could argue that summer learning loss affects nearly all of the students in one particular district. It is a quarter of the year, so [there are] huge implications and yet we only devote one or two percent of our education dollars to this,” Boulay continued. “Clearly this is because education dollars are stretched during the school year.”

Increasing summer learning opportunities: Innovative ideas for teachers and administrators

Boulay offered many strategies educators can use to support summer learning and advocate for equal access to educational opportunities while school is out.

Educate parents about summer learning loss

Talk with parents about summer learning loss before the school year is out. Visually, the data forms a nice graphic of a line going up during the school year and dropping during the summer.

Pair school libraries with summer meal programs

Every school has a library program; 90 percent are closed during the summer. “These are books that are paid for in a building already there. In too many schools, the library is closed all summer,” said Boulay. “So what does it take to keep that library open for a minimum of one day a week over the summer?”

Many schools are a hub for summer meal programs. If school libraries were open even one day a week, they could offer book check-outs at the same time children arrive to eat. “So at a minimum, kids could walk to their local school, go to the library, and exchange books once a week. You could do that inexpensively with volunteers or a stipend,” he added.

Establish summer reading contracts and celebrations for students

“Just as schools and teachers ask their parents to read 20 minutes a day during the school year, maintain and continue that good habit through the summer,” said Boulay. “At this time of year, parents sign a contract and discuss it with their children. Usually, they get a reward in September when they come back.”

“One school I know gave out gold medals if the kids hit their reading goals over the summer,” he added. “There was a ceremony and they all got a gold medal.”

Take the ‘Summer Learning Pledge’

Boulay points to the “Summer Learning Pledge” as a great tool for educators. Teachers can add their names to the pledge, which reads, “I pledge to keep kids learning and healthy all summer long to ensure they go back to school on track and ready to learn.” The pledge site also provides resources for listing or finding summer learning events and programs.

Let families use their mobile devices to access your school’s online learning programs

Many schools have online learning programs that they pay for on a 12-month subscription basis. Usually, these have no additional cost to the school or district, and many are accessible over mobile devices, which most folks have. Let parents know these programs are available.

Use classroom data to illustrate the impact of summer learning loss

If teachers are able to track learning during the school year, they can also track summer learning loss in their classrooms and use that data to advocate locally and statewide for summer learning.

Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor, and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.

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