Teachers offer ‘brain drain’ solutions

http://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/160dc136-f704-11e2-8f22-0019bb2963f4.html

Teachers offer ‘brain drain’ solutions

Students backslide without vacation stimulation, educators say

ISABELLE DILLS

Tips for summer learning

• Use the local library and participate in summer reading programs.
• Buy inexpensive workbooks, puzzles and games to help children keep their skills fresh.
• Offer enrichment activities such as family outings, day camps and tutoring.
• Make errands a learning exercise, giving children a chance to weigh objects, create a shopping list, read product information and expand vocabulary.
(Source: Local educators)

Summer learning loss. Summer slide. Summer brain drain.

Almost all young people who do not engage in educational activities during the summer lose some of what they learned during the school year. But summer learning loss does not affect everyone equally, educators say.

Low-income students — who often don’t have the same access to summer camps, family vacations and other learning opportunities — are especially vulnerable to losing academic skills during the break.

Research shows that low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-income peers make slight gains, according to Sylvan Learning, which offers tutoring and homework help in learning centers throughout the country.

“These losses are cumulative and lead to a widening achievement gap, placement in less rigorous high school courses, higher high school dropout rates, and lower college attendance,” according to Sylvan.

Allowing such a significant lapse in learning is what local educator Walt Buckner believes to be one of the greatest pitfalls of the U.S. education system.

“I’ve always had a problem with the amount of time students are away from the classroom — particularly in the summer,” said Buckner, a math and science tutor at Napa’s Sylvan Learning Center. Buckner also works as a teacher in the Napa Valley Unified School District’s in-home/hospital program.

“Personally, I’d prefer a year-round school program whose breaks were shorter,” Buckner said.

‘My goal is to have fun’

At Napa’s Connolly Ranch, about 30 kids recently attended Art Exploration Camp, where they made nature-based arts and crafts and interacted with farm animals, including Mango the goat and Cupcake the donkey.

The idea of having no summer vacation didn’t sit well with the Connolly Ranch kids, who described the idea of year-round school as boring.

“It would be good for my brain, but I also think it would be boring because I’d get tired of it really soon — like I usually do,” 8-year-old Olivia Davis said.

Andrew Dillon, 7, believes too much school could lead to burnout.

Kids “will get too bored, and they won’t want to learn,” Andrew said.

For 7-year-old Will Walter, summer is about going swimming in the Yountville Community Pool, doing art and going hiking.

At Browns Valley Elementary School, up to 40 kids are attending Camp Fun in the Sun, where the children are spending the summer swimming, going on field trips, conducting science experiments and going to the movies.

The kids admitted that it’s easy, during summer break, to not remember some of the things they learned in school.

“Honestly, I forget it. Over the summer, I don’t even know what day it is,” 11-year-old Anel Reyes said.

When asked what creates the best memories — school or summer vacation — Anel said that it depends. Summer vacation is usually more memorable, she said, but only “if you do something awesome with it.”

The kids at Connolly Ranch felt much the same way.

“For summer vacation, my goal is to have fun,” Andrew Levy, 9, said.

One of Andrew’s favorite summer activities is to go fishing with his mom and grandmother.

“I’ve been going with my grandma and mom since I was 4,” Andrew said.

Making the most of summer vacation

Summer vacation may be a long-standing tradition, but American schoolchildren didn’t always get the break.

In the early 1800s, children in urban areas attended school almost year-round, according to Kenneth Gold’s book, “School’s In: The History of Summer Education in American Public Schools.” Meanwhile, children in rural areas typically attended school in the winter and summer so they could help with planting and harvesting in the spring and fall.

By the mid- to late-1800s, sweltering hot classrooms, along with the influence of wealthy families — who could afford vacations — led to the elimination of school during the summer. The number of school days were lengthened, and summer became a time for family trips, according to “School’s In.”

Today, children get about 10 weeks of summer vacation in the Napa Valley Unified School District.

Barbara Nemko, the superintendent of the Napa County Office of Education, said low-income children aren’t the only kids susceptible to summer learning loss. Any child whose family doesn’t make a concerted effort to encourage learning is at risk of losing some skills, she said.

English-learners are at an especially high risk if they spend the summer neither hearing nor using English, Nemko said.

“Learning is a continuum, and any time there is a break from school, there is a chance that learning can slow down,” said Elena Toscano, Napa Valley Unified’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “But there are many things parents and caregivers can do over any break to help learning continue.”

One of the best things parents can do is visit the local library with their children, Nemko and Toscano said. Summer reading programs are available for all ages, and the resources at the library are free.

Parents can also purchase inexpensive workbooks, puzzles and games at local stores to help their children freshen up their skills, Toscano said. Even resources around the home — such as a deck of cards — can be used to practice math skills.

Sometimes a simple errand can be a learning experience for a young child.

“A trip to the grocery store provides an opportunity to weigh objects, create a shopping list, read product information and expand vocabulary,” Toscano said.

‘Learning is an everyday activity’

A survey conducted by the National Summer Learning Association showed that the majority of teachers take at least three to four weeks to reteach the previous year’s skills at the beginning of a new school year.

“From kindergarten through high school, most students backslide academically throughout the summer months, only to spend weeks or months making up lost ground at the beginning of the following school year,” according to Sylvan Learning.

Buckner said he thinks many parents are so overburdened with day-to-day living — going to work, paying the bills and supporting the household — that they don’t have enough quality time with their children. And as a result, electronics have become the modern-day baby sitter, he said.

“The latchkey child has become the video game/TV-watching child,” Buckner said.

Less than half of American children, ages 8 to 18, identify reading as a favorite summer activity. According to a Sylvan Learning survey, playing video games was identified most often as a favorite summer activity among boys, while reading books ranked sixth.
“We are not impressing on our kids that learning is an everyday activity,” Buckner said.

At the Sylvan Learning Center in Napa, about 110 kids are enrolled for the summer, which is similar to the rest of the school year. Most of the kids need help in reading or math, and the amount of time each one spends at Sylvan varies — some come for two hours per week, some come for eight, director Anne Schramm said.

“Summertime is a tough time, because kids don’t want to be there,” Buckner said.

Buckner said he works to motivate kids by giving encouragement and celebrating their achievements.

“I’m a big cheerleader,” Buckner said. “I tell them we’re in this together. Your success is my success. My success is your success.”

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