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Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as Programs That Promote Summer Learning Gain Popularity

Programs That Promote Summer Learning Gain Popularity

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Like most parents, Patricia Scales wants her children to have the best possible education.

But the 46-year-old mother of four has found that's not always easy when you move around a lot. Over the past 10 years, the Scales family has lived in Kentucky, Michigan, New York, and Tennessee, and Ms. Scales has found that some school districts are stronger in certain subjects than in others.

So five years ago, she decided to send her daughter, who was 10 at the time, to a summer enrichment program.

Ms Scales said that though her daughter was a B student, "I knew that her previous school did not have a strong math program. I wanted to address this before it became a problem."

The summer program raised her daughter's math skills by two grade levels, and this summer, Ms. Scales, who now lives in Albany, N.Y., has enrolled her youngest children, ages 11 and 13, in reading and study-skills programs.

Fun With Learning

Once thought of as a punishment of sorts, summer-enrichment programs are gaining in popularity among parents and students.

Peter Rosenstein

"It is an increasing phenomenon," said Peter Rosenstein, the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, based in Washington.

"We're finding that children and parents are looking for fun and educational learning experiences [in the summer]," he added.

Enrichment programs allow students to receive specialized attention in a particular area, including subjects such as mathematics, science, reading, writing, art, music, and computers. "Children can combine what they consider fun with learning," Mr. Rosenstein said.

Colleges and universities, churches, school districts, and private groups, among others, offer summer enrichment programs. The cost can range from less than $100 to $1,000 or more.

Economic Differences

Experts say no one program is really better than another, and they urge parents to look for programs that fit the needs of their children, while factoring in such variables as how long the program has been running, cost, and convenience.

Keeping a child's mind engaged in some type of educational activity over the summer months pays off in the fall.

Research, some of which dates as far back as 1906, shows that learning slows in the summer when students are out of school. Typically, at the beginning of each school year, teachers have to spend the first month reviewing material from the previous year. ("School's Out for Summer," July 13, 1994.)

One Johns Hopkins University researcher has found that the amount of review needed when classes resume is related to children's socioeconomic status.

Karl Alexander, a researcher and sociology professor, said that during the school year, children typically advance at the same rate or level regardless of income. But in the summer months, the academic skills of students from upper-income families continue to improve, he said, while the skills of students from lower-income families either stay the same or decline.

The reasons for the "summer differential" are not easy to explain in statistical terms, Mr. Alexander said. But a key factor, he said, could be that students from well-to-do families are more likely to go to the library, take vacations, and go to summer and sports camps--all of which can help strengthen learning--while poorer students more typically depend on the learning that takes place in school.

Summer Campaign

This year, the American School Counselor Association, which is based in Alexandria, Va., and the National Association for Gifted Children have partnered with a private education company to promote a summer learning campaign for families.

Called "Summer is for Learning," the campaign is designed to publicize to parents and students the various learning and enrichment opportunities that are available.

''Historically, American people don't tend to associate learning with summertime," said Richard E. Bavaria, a vice president of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., the Baltimore-based company that is involved in the campaign. "[Students] can't turn their minds off for 10 weeks. ... That doesn't work today."

Parents should work with their child's teacher or counselor to find an enrichment program that builds on the student's interests, Mr. Bavaria said.

Some states are also taking action to keep students up to speed over the summer.

In Missouri, for example, 422 of the state's 525 school districts offer summer enrichment programs. The state legislature in 1993 passed a school reform law that has resulted in phenomenal growth in summer programs, according to James Morris, the director of public information for the state education department.

"Parents are demanding quality summer programs for their kids," Mr. Morris said, adding that the reform law, the Outstanding Schools Act, encourages summer programs. Last summer, an estimated 20 percent of Missouri's K-12 students were enrolled in some type of enrichment program.

A serious, well-structured academic program is great for students who like to learn, said Mr. Alexander, the Johns Hopkins researcher.

"My greatest concern, however, is for students who don't find school a rewarding experience," he said. Educators know how to put a curriculum together, but the challenge comes in keeping students engaged who are struggling academically, he said.

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Page 13

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