Kids call it summer vacation.
Educators think of it as the Summer Slide – that phenomenon when the knowledge students gained during the school year starts getting lost during two months off.
Summer learning loss is in peak season, and efforts to fight it are in full swing, too.
That includes the summer “camps” that kicked off last week in Buffalo, providing six weeks of summer learning – and fun – for some 1,800 city students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“Are you guys ready?” Abena Griffin said to her 20 first-graders, sitting in two rows on the classroom floor.
“Yes,” the kids said in unison.
“The problem is 3 plus 9,” Griffin said.
Two girls at the front of the line jumped up and raced to the white board to be the first to jot down the problem and their answers. They raced back to the end of the line where Griffin gave them a high-five.
“OK,” said Griffin, who teaches at Aloma D. Johnson Charter School during the school year, “we’ll do a couple more rounds, and then we’ll move onto our shapes.”
This camp at Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Main Street is one of 41 across the city this summer, funded jointly by Buffalo Public Schools and its partner, Say Yes to Education, the nonprofit that offers college scholarships to city graduates.
The free, voluntary, day-long camps stress enrichment – recreation, art, field trips – mixed with hour blocks for math and English language arts, as well as time for reading.
“Our main goal for summer camp is that students do not experience what they call the ‘Summer Slide,’” said Anne Botticelli, the district’s chief academic officer.
“We want students to at least maintain the learning that they had over the course of the year,” Botticelli said. “They found over time, when students don’t do something active with school work or keep their brain sharp over the summer, that when they start the new year they sometimes have slight regression in their skills.”
Summer learning loss has been well documented, said Ji-Won Son, an assistant professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction at the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education.
“Research demonstrates that all students experience significant learning losses in procedural and factual knowledge during the summer months,” Son said. “A common finding across numerous studies was that, on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning of summer – on the same test."
That’s why Son, an expert in the area of math education for elementary and secondary students, is using grant funding to run free, weeklong math programs this summer at Enterprise, Westminster Community and Buffalo Academy of Science charter schools. The program is specifically geared toward girls.
“We intend to prevent summer learning loss and improve 150 girls’ understanding about mathematics,” Son said.
Other studies suggest:
• Students lose as much as two months of their mathematical skills over the summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association, which is focused on summer learning to narrow the achievement gap.
• The slide is steeper for low-income students, who have fewer enrichment and academic opportunities during the summer than their higher-income peers.
“It’s the cumulative effect of multiple summers of not having those experiences that puts kids at high risk of dropping out in high school,” said Monica Logan, a vice president at the Baltimore-based nonprofit.
• Students have shown to benefit when attending a summer learning program for at least five weeks.
“Most kids are not in summer camps. Most kids are home with their parents or with their relatives, so we know that’s actually where the bulk of the opportunity is,” Logan said.
Son, the UB professor, thought at least a half hour a day of academic work was a good goal for kids at home during the summer months.
Logan said it was important to keep kids intellectually stimulated during their daily summer routines – reading, visiting a library or a museum, improving on academic weaknesses.
“What we’re seeing, as well, is a lot of online learning,” Logan said. “Parents can get their kids access to an online library of books or academic games to stay engaged.”
Buffalo’s summer “camps” – not to be confused with summer school that students attend to recover credit – have had a spotty record over the years and been met with inconsistency, uncertainty and criticism from parents.
But the program – which isn’t mandated – has stabilized since the involvement of Say Yes three summers ago.
Say Yes and the district split the $500,000 cost this year and tweaked the curriculum to provide a level of standard across camps, which are run by community-based organizations and churches.
The number of camps also were lowered to 41 from 57 in favor of quality over quantity. Slots are down from about 2,100 last year.
The city is hosting the programs in its community centers, which Mayor Byron W. Brown said also strengthens connections between neighborhood residents and education.
A sampling of students from last year’s camps suggested a majority were able to maintain their level of learning during the summer, but Say Yes expects to have more detailed tracking data this year.
“I don’t think there’s any debate that it’s good to have these kids in structured activities, as opposed to home watching TV or on the corner with their friends,” said David Rust, executive director of Say Yes Buffalo.
At Gloria J. Parks, the camp’s 130 kids begin arriving by 8 a.m. They’re served breakfast, then transition into an hour of math or ELA before a recreational activity, said Shae Herron, youth program director at the community center.
After lunch, there’s an hour of reading – “The Big Friendly Giant.”
Down the hall from the first-grade class, the second-graders were learning about money.
If Kim has five one dollar bills does she have enough to buy a box of fries for $2?
“Yes,” yelled out one of the students.
“How many dollars does she have left?” asked Jessica Dubois, the classroom teacher.
“Three,” said one of the kids.
“Awesome,” Dubois said. “Who got that as the answer?”
Downstairs, 30 boys in grades 5 through 8 were practicing their math.
It’s no secret they’d rather not be in the classroom on their summer vacation, so their instructor, Josh Deveso, was sneaking in a lesson on probability by playing a game using a die.
“This age group is difficult to catch, because they probably could stay at home,” Herron said, ”and they definitely wouldn’t be doing any of this.”