The “summer slide” is an unfortunate occurrence that happens to students when they are disconnected from the everyday interactions that happen during the school year. There is a lot of research that speaks to the rise in academic gaps that are revealed each fall when a new academic year begins. According to an article from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), “students [lose] a greater proportion of their school year gains each year as they grow older – anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.”
Do these numbers make you as uncomfortable as they do me? I could launch into my opinion on adopting a new school calendar year, but I’ll refrain. That is a far larger topic that likely won’t be tackled in the very near future. Along with the obvious loss in academic learning that takes place over the summer months, I would argue that there are other gaps that grow, including peer relationships and an overall connection to learning.
After our first year with the ARCTIC Zone, we knew we wanted to find ways to stay in touch with our students and to hopefully keep a connection to learning alive for them throughout the summer break. At that time, we implemented several ideas we hoped would do the trick. Each summer we’ve altered our summer expectations and offerings. Our family summer picnic is still a huge success, and I’m excited to say this will be our first year welcoming alumni to share the evening with us. This is a tradition that will remain in place for as long as I have anything to say about it. It is an opportunity for incoming families to meet and mingle withe returning families, and it’s just a great chance for students to hang out on a beautiful evening outside.
We needed to find a way to connect students to learning and exploring while they were away from school without it feeling like a chore but with accountability, as well, to ensure they would all reap the benefits of those experiences. Our students now have a summer passion project they are expected to complete before they return to school in the fall at which point they will give a short presentation to new and returning AZ students where they will share their project ideas and outcomes. Last year we had projects of all kinds. One student raised quails while another student designed a video game while another student tested several baking methods for cheesecake while yet another student tracked the success of various baits at multiple fishing spots around Eau Claire. The goal is not to “require” a school project but to open their eyes to the learning opportunities that exist all around them all the time. I want them to realize this connection and to deepen their desire and love for learning.
Another idea we’ve implemented this summer came on just weeks before we parted for vacation. The hope has always been to increase student engagement and initiative and to build their leadership and communication skills. So, at this moment, I stand typing this post within the walls of my classroom on a beautiful summer morning as a group of middle school students (not all AZ students, by the way) hang out for their first Anime Club Meeting that was 100% organized by two student leaders. This summer, we created the idea of student-led summer clubs. All students had the option to become a leader of any summer club of their choice. I offered my availability and guidance for any moment, like being able to offer school as a meeting space if needed, but other than that, they are on their own to organize club meetings and communicate with their members.
All in all, when we parted ways for the summer, information had been sent out to all students regarding 12 different clubs. Some example clubs include a bowling club, running club, movie club, art club, and a babysitter’s club. Anime happens to be something I know NOTHING about, but that’s okay because I don’t have to do anything! The club leaders came prepared with snacks, decorations, crafts, and of course … anime episodes for watching. I’m just here enjoying their company and their laughter, which was my hope for this idea from the start – peer connections. All of the other leadership stuff is just an added bonus.
There doesn’t seem to be any movement toward altering the school calendar, so until that happens, I think the answer to challenging the summer slide phenomenon, is getting students connected … with each other, with themselves, and with learning opportunities that surround them on a daily basis. Isn’t that what we want for their futures, anyway?