School’s out for summer – here’s what you need to know about ‘slides,’ ‘slumps’

By Blake Lubinski, consultant, Department of Communications and Community Outreach

Open Book on a Wooden Bench“It’s called the ‘summer slump,’” said Sue Hahn, project specialist in the Office of Family and Community Engagement, as she turned her head from the computer screen and rested her eyes on me.

When she said it, “summer slump” sounded vaguely familiar, kind of like “achievement gap”; “equitable, not equal”; and, more recently, “grit,” bits of education jargon that I’ve picked up over the years as an intern-turned-consultant for Baltimore County Public Schools. And, at first, I thought little of it – after all, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what “grit” is (besides a synonym for dirt or dust, of course). But, something about the gravity implied in Hahn’s dimmed eyes and flattened lips stayed with me, leading me to think about – and, ultimately, research – the unusual phrase long after she left my desk.

The “summer slump,” also known as the “summer slide,” is a phenomenon observed by educators and other education professionals worldwide – not just in Baltimore County. After 10 months of lectures, discussions, and projects in the classroom, the school year breaks for summer, and the “slide” begins: popsicles replace pencils, beach bags swap in for backpacks, and swim lessons take the place of study sessions. While summer offers a much-deserved opportunity to relax for BCPS students, who work tirelessly during the school year to achieve academic success, it also presents a significant challenge. Without access to the same resources used in classrooms to aid learning and stimulate thinking, some students can suffer losses – big losses – to the academic gains that they made during the school year.

For instance, according to Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), a nonprofit organization focused on childhood literacy, elementary students who forgo summer reading opportunities – either by choice or, more frequently, by circumstance – could be as much as three years behind their actively-reading peers by the end of Grade 5. For older students, the reality is similarly grim: research cited by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) suggests that unequal access to literary materials accounts for upwards of two-thirds of reading achievement disparities among Grade 9 students. And, for all students, regardless of grade level, the “summer slump” can reverse up to two months’ worth of acquired computational and mathematical skills, says the National Summer Learning Association.

These are only some of the potential consequences, though. What the countless studies conducted on this phenomenon and its far-reaching effects boil down to is this: the “summer slump” is real – and serious.

But, luckily, this summer is still young, and the opportunity to stop the slump before it starts is still open. To prevent learning losses this summer, Hahn shares her top five tips for parents and their Grades PreK-12 students.

1.  Sign up for a summer program

Whatever your child’s passion is, there’s a summer program for it! From technology and robotics to creative writing and world languages, camps and centers exist across a wide range of subject areas, allowing students to explore their current interests and discover new ones. But, if your child would like to participate in a summer program, especially those open to students across Baltimore County, be sure register soon – spaces are limited.

2.  Visit the library

School’s out, but that doesn’t mean that the libraries are! Each year, BCPS opens a handful of its school libraries during the summer and, this year, the school system plans to expand its program to reach even more libraries, including those at 49 Title I schools. The Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) also holds summer hours, inviting students to browse its collections, participate in its free events, and register for its Summer Reading Club seven days a week. What’s more, students who read a book that has received a Black-Eyed Susan Award from the Maryland Association of School Librarians are encouraged to submit brief book reports, describing what they like about the book and whether they would recommend it to others, to communications@bcps.org.

3.   Tour a college campus

Baltimore is home to more than a dozen colleges and universities, many of which offer free informational sessions and tours to prospective students. To learn more about local higher education options, simply visit an institution’s website and check out its admissions page. Remember, it’s never too early to be college- and career-ready!

4.   Try a “Tip of the Day”

How do you and your child define and strive for success? Did you know that local recreational sites, such as the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum and Oregon Ridge Park, frequently host free events? For what five Latin American countries does Hispanic Heritage Month coincide with celebrations of Independence Day? These and other ideas for family discussions, outings, and trivia are posted daily on the Parents page of BCPS website, so be sure to check back often!

5.   Explore online resources

On a rainy day or during a late evening, the Internet can be a great tool for researching information and planning activities for the future. If you’re curious about what your child will learn next school year, take a look at Parent Guides for students in Grades K-8 and high school. A Parent Toolkit offers additional information on education standards by grade level as well as tips to promote your child’s achievement of his or her learning benchmarks. What’s more, for learning resources recommended by parents and teachers, check out National Tech Goes Home. There, resources geared toward Baltimore County families appear in brown, while those relevant to families nationwide are located below in blue. Parents with their own favorite online resources – Hahn says hers is Storyline Online, which offers recordings of select children’s books – also can suggest them for inclusion in the collection.

If you’re interested in activities that actively and proactively engage your child, BCPS offices and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) have your family covered! Lists containing ideas for science and social studies day trips include addresses and contact information for attractions across Baltimore County, helping you to plan and schedule your visits with ease. And, with offers and opportunities such as College 4 Free and parallel enrollment, CCBC allows your child to prepare for higher education while still in high school.

“Summer is a great time for taking our children out and exposing them to new learning,” said Hahn – and she’s right. With so many opportunities to advance their knowledge and develop their skills, BCPS students are sure to climb and thrive, not slide and slump, this summer!

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