Is it time to drop traditional summer school?
A group of case studies from California makes that argument. These studies from last summer found that low-income students benefited from summer learning programs. No big surprise there. But the type of program they were taking part in was not your typical remediation effort.
The case studies, which are collected in the report, “Investing in Summer Learning: Stories from the Field,” were conducted by Summer Matters, a California initiative to provide summer learning for students. The authors looked at three programs that were operated by school districts through various partnerships. One community partnered with California Teaching Fellows, a group of undergraduate students who work part-time to staff extended-learning programs. Another partnered with local businesses and community organizations interested in education, and a third worked with THINK Together, a group charged with helping kids from low-income families and children of color reach their full potential. These three communities span 26 school districts. And, in many ways, the programs they developed more closely resembled a summer camp than what most people would think of summer school.
“Traditional summer school doesn’t work,” said Katie Brackenridge, a senior director for expanded-learning initiatives at the Partnership for Children and Youth.
She said these programs haven’t been that successful, “in part, because it’s hard to get kids to attend consistently during the summer.”
And, she said the traditional model also takes a toll on teachers: “The teachers are tired, and they don’t want to reteach what they’ve been doing all year. It’s kind of exhausting for everybody.”
These programs tend to be more aligned with kids’ interests. For example, one literacy program in Fresno focused on the Hunger Games trilogy.
“The programs that have figured out how to make summer learning work have focused on tapping into the types of environments and activities that kids naturally like to do,” said Brackenridge.
Think fewer lectures and more hands-on activities.
Some of the programs are led by credentialed district teachers, while others have paraprofessional staff teach the classes. In those cases, the districts help with planning curriculum and may provide credentialed teachers to observe and provide coaching.
“That fun environment is what keeps the kids coming, but it’s also really inspiring for the staff,” said Brackenridge. “They get to use a lot more creativity than they do during the regular school year, and they’re excited about that.”
Brackenridge says a lot of those creative lesson plans make their way into the classroom during the regular school year.
Photo: Students participate in a summer learning program in the Mountain View school district. (Daren Howard/Partnership for Children and Youth)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.