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Summer Vacation Or Summer Digression?

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Summer Vacation Or Summer Digression?

Arts & Life

Summer Vacation Or Summer Digression?

Summer Vacation Or Summer Digression?

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For many school-aged children in America, summer means checking out of school for at least a couple months. But new research says long breaks from the classroom can set kids back. A group of moms — Jolene Ivey, Dani Tucker, Loriene Roy — join Ron Fairchild, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, for a discussion about the pros and cons of summer break.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week we visit with a diverse group of parents for their common sense parenting advice. Today we want to talk about summer vacation. Now, many of us are used to thinking about summer as a time to kick back. But is kicking back setting your child back? It could be.

According to research from the National Summer Learning Association, most students will lose two months of grade level equivalency in math computation skills. For low income students, they are more likely to lose two months in reading achievement. What's the big deal? Well, just two months of achievement in either core skill could mean the difference between graduating or not from high school for some kids.

So now that summer is at the halfway point, we thought, what better time to talk about what parents can do to help turn summer brain drain into a summer gain. So to do that we've welcomed our TELL ME MORE parenting regulars, Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker. They're here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio. Also with us is Loriene Roy, past president of the American Library Association. For the year of her term, she was our book lady and she recommended many wonderful books, particularly for kids. And, also, Ron Fairchild. He's the CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. Nice to have you all with us.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

DANI TUCKER: Hi, Michel.

RON FAIRCHILD: Hi, Michel.

LORIENE ROY: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, great. Thank you all for coming. Ron, let's start with you. When did parents and educators start to focus on the summer break and the effect on academic achievement?

FAIRCHILD: Sure. Well, actually, the research on this is quite clear and goes back to 1906. But it's just becoming, really, a popular issue that people are paying more attention to. But it really does make good common sense. And, you know, we would expect an athlete or a musician's performance to suffer if they didn't practice. And certainly the same thing is true for our nation's young people.

MARTIN: Dani, what - have you noticed this - sort of losing a little bit of what they'd learned at the end of the school year when they start back in the fall?

TUCKER: Oh yeah. We used to have a joke about it, you know, get DeVaughn out of the starting blocks, you know, when it was time to go back to school 'cause he was slow coming out of the starting block. And especially when they were little. Imani, not much so because she likes to read during the summer and everything, but with DeVaughn, definitely. We have to have - it's a family plan to get him, you know, back in gear when school starts because that little short period of time, he really just kind of puts it out of his mind.

MARTIN: Well, some of it, isn't that us as parents in a way? I mean, don't you kind of - Jolene, all right, let me just - I'll speak for myself. Just the idea of kind of getting into that mode of, all right, hurry up and sit down and do this and do that. And kind of, you like having a break in the summer in a way, don't you?

IVEY: Oh, absolutely. I love having a break. Now, last summer, I was able to help my youngest kid, who is in a French immersion program. I was kind of worried about him for the summertime losing his French because it's not like I can provide that for him in the summer. But we did take them to Montreal.

You know, it was something that our family was able to do, at least a few of us, not the whole family. We were kind of a big family. But a few of us did go to Montreal and kind of expose him to French like that. This summer we're a little busy and his French, I'm sure, it's got to be suffering. But I'm not worried about that so much. I'm more worried about making sure he continues to read. My dad, who lives with us, has flash cards that he goes over with him occasionally for his math facts. So, you know, I don't really think that's fun. But it's something that bonds them.

MARTIN: Loriene, we haven't forgotten about you. But, Ron, what do you recommend? What are some of the things that your group is recommending as ways to bridge that gap? Are you advocating kind of a general overhaul of the way we think of the school year, shortening that summer break?

FAIRCHILD: You know, most people have this wonderful image of what summer is all about for young people. I think you heard a little bit of that from other folks on the panel. And it definitely is a time for something different. It's time for some recreation, vacations, for creative exploration, for enrichment.

In short, it's time - it is a time for learning. There are a number of things in terms of tips that we recommend to parents. First and foremost, there are some wonderful low-cost, high quality summer learning programs that fit almost any family's budget. There are programs offered by schools, by libraries, by recreation centers, universities, community-based organizations. All of these programs typically may have an educational or enrichment focus, anything that's really going to tap into our kids' interests and start in that place, but then also use some of those interests to encourage them to become students of their talent, if you will, to practice those skills over the summer.

MARTIN: Loriene, this is a good time to bring you in. I think a lot of people might be listening to this conversation saying well, that's fine, you know, if you've got 300 bucks to enroll your kid in a program at the local university, which is what they cost in this area - there are summer reading programs that are great, but they are pricey. So what about the libraries?

ROY: Well, this is a really fortuitous time to talk about the impact of summer reading. And one reason is that last week, the final study of a three- year research project on the impact of summer reading programs on student achievement was released. And this is called the Dominican Study. It was coordinated by Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science. So for the past three years they've been watching, interviewing students, teachers, parents and looking at what has happened as an impact of kids involved in summer reading program. And they have more evidence now that it resolves in children's scores and standardized testing increasing, teachers reporting kids' increased confidence in reading, participating in classroom activities. So it extends beyond the summer into the school year.

And one of the recommendations is that we just start realizing the role that public libraries play in helping to close this education gap - this reading gap, what a powerful role that public libraries play. And the public libraries need our continued support in order to do that. Engaging families, letting other families know that these summer reading programs exist.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jolene Ivey, Dani Tucker, Loriene Roy and Ron Fairchild. We're talking about the summer brain drain, where the kids have a drop off in achievement over the summer and what we can do that.

So I'm going to ask the moms, Dani, what have you noticed that works? And one of the questions I have is how do you fit it into your schedule? Because your kids are - one is old enough to kind of operate without supervision, but one is not and, you know, you still have to work, so you can't take off in the middle of the day to take Imani to the library. How do you fit it in? Do you set aside time in the evening, you say this is reading time? What have you noticed that works?

TUCKER: I use my, what I always talk about, my family, friends and network - the moms who don't work or who do, who Imani rides to - happen to the library and the activities with the mom that doesn't work during the day. And then, you know, we help out where we can when I'm not working. But just with DeVaughn, he can do his own. But with her, exactly, just put her in with other people who are going that way. Or she rides the bus. You know, she rides the bus right now.

MARTIN: How do you get her to want to do it, though?

TUCKER: Just kind of promote her. You know, in other words, I let her know if you do this, you know, mommy's got this for you. Like, she wants to do certain things on the weekend. So I say, well, you know, did you read that book I asked you to read? Or did you read that book for half or whatever? You got to put the work in before you get to play. So that's what I do with most of them. I make sure that they have their, you know, rewards system, especially the oldest one. Especially DeVaughn, because he can just...

MARTIN: The reward system works for him?

TUCKER: No, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: We still - I'm just going to be honest, but it's our system and we're trying it, you know. The reward system work. He doesn't work, you know, and I wanted to add something too about, you know, because I live around a lot of low income people, the programs are out there. They just don't always take advantage of them. We've got to take advantage.

MARTIN: Well, why is that do you think?

TUCKER: I'm (Unintelligible).

MARTIN: Well, I don't know about that. I mean, we had a conversation with Colin Jones last week about swimming and we talked about the disproportionate number of black and brown kids who drown, particularly in the summer.

TUCKER: Right.

MARTIN: And he - I said, well, why is that? Because in many ways, you know, it used to be a lack of access and now there are many more pools available - I mean, sometimes yes, sometimes no. But he said he doesn't think it's access. He thinks it's that a lot of parents who didn't grow up swimming, they see water like fire and so they avoid it.

TUCKER: Right. Yeah.

MARTIN: And so the question I have for you is it that for some parents, for example, who didn't grow up as reading being valued, is it that they see it as chore or as not fun or comfortable for them, that they don't promote it?

TUCKER: Probably right.

MARTIN: What do you think?

TUCKER: I mean, I'm half with that. The other half is it takes time to be interested. I mean, it's easy for them to come home in the summer and I watch them in my neighborhood, and just go home and watch TV. You don't have to worry about them. You don't have to worry about getting them somewhere else, you know what I mean? The whole schedule change, you just leave them there, let them play outside.

So it takes time. You have to actually sit down like we have to do at the beginning of the summer and say, this is what we're going to do for these three months and this is where you're going to go. Got to give it the time and I just don't think lot of parents are giving it the time. It's easy just to let those kids just run around and do nothing or play Xbox as your babysitter, or MTV as your babysitter.

MARTIN: Jolene, what have you observed with your kids? What works in getting them to want to just - getting you to want to do it with them, you know?

IVEY: Well, I don't have any problem with the reading with them because I love to read. I don't look at it as a chore. The newspaper comes in the door everyday and most of them, you know, look at some part of the paper and that's good. That's good. They, you know, like the sports section, whatever. I don't care. I don't care if they're just reading the comics as long as they're reading something. And I think that my attitude about reading probably helps them be good readers and not look as reading as a negative.

Now the math, that's a whole different kettle of fish because, does the math workbook come in with your coffee in the morning? No. Math is not fun to me. And if it weren't for those flash cards and my dad, I'm sure my kid couldn't count to 10 by the end of the summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Okay.

IVEY: But, you know, it's just not my thing. But the thing is that one size really doesn't fit all with kids. And if less fortunate kids do need these great programs, families that are able to provide for their kids, they really shouldn't be penalized. I would hate it if you took summer away from my kids because we - well, summer vacation. You never take summer away. God knows, it's been hot. But, you know, I just like to be able to have them do something else and have them be bored for a little while and try out something new on their own.

Our 17-year-old, on his own this summer, has started to volunteer at Casa de Maryland, which is an immigrants' rights group. Don't ask me exactly how it got started but now he's like really dedicated and I'm glad he's doing it.

MARTIN: Let me ask our other two guests about that idea because, Ron, during the school year, a lot of us have this sort of model of school is work for kids. You know, we teach them to take it seriously, to say this is your work. It's your job to go to school and to learn. What about during the summer? What do you think makes sense as a way to carry the learning forward? Or should there be an effort to say, well, it's actually fun?

FAIRCHILD: I think we should make every effort to carry the learning forward and use summer as an opportunity and not waste that. And what's clear is that there are a range of solutions that can work for kids and for families at various different points along the income spectrum or if you look at, you know, what kids are actually interested in.

MARTIN: Have you observed that in the summer, is it more effective to present summer learning as a different kind of activity or as an extension of the school year?

FAIRCHILD: Well, what we've found is that kids and families are looking for something slightly different than what they would typically get during the regular school day and year. And presenting it as something a little bit different tends to be a great way to engage kids. And to start at a place that says, what are you interested in? What are you interested in learning more about this summer? And exploring that.

I do think there is a place for, if kids are struggling in math or reading, to get some specific focused help on those subjects. And there are plenty of resources out there available for parents online or in the form of, you know, workbooks or other resources that are designed to help kids who are struggling or who are behind. But the real opportunity I think that summer presents is, again, on this creative exploration side of things.

MARTIN: You know, I have to say Loriene, when I was growing up, you know, summer school was perceived as punishment. Like, if you were in summer school it's because you had messed up during the school year. And it wasn't until I became an adult that I realized that people with more resources saw summer as a chance to get ahead with, you know, rocket camp and science camp and stuff like that. That's just - I mean, that was not known to me at all.

So, Loriene, I was curious about how do libraries encourage people to come in during the summer if there is that sense that I really want to be outside? That the only reason I'm here is because I messed up or because it's raining, or this is like their worst case scenario basically, as opposed to something you really want to do.

ROY: Well, I think the summer offers students, their parents, the opportunity to see the library as some other setting. I think it's more of an issue in school libraries that you have that unfortunate scenario where someone is sent to the library as a form of punishment. And then, of course, there's wonderful stuff that you find when you arrive there. But libraries around the country know that summer is a time that youth and their families are looking to the library as a fun place, a fun place to explore reading of all sorts - all sorts of media from graphic novels, magazines to creating their own.

And this isn't to say that television also doesn't have its place. You know, I look to public television, WGBH develops initiatives that really connect media with helping to address loss of schools. We look, you know, my son is 20 now, we watch the television, you know, PBS series and we read the books. So it doesn't mean that summer is a place we negate how else we find information, but there's terrific opportunity to explore it in many different ways.

And then the social contest. Summer reading program, there's opportunity to bring young people together to create and explore, I think is wonderful, and in a way that is not a punishment. It's a way that's exploring and joyful.

MARTIN: And did you, Loriene when your son was growing up, did you encourage him to read different kinds of things in the summer? Or how did you handle it?

ROY: Well, there was a time where, you know, I had my list, I had my authors I liked and pretty soon he kind of went off on his own. He's 20 now and his favorite author is Terry Pratchett and he's reading "Masquerade." He's reading science fiction. But this is something that evolved as he became a, you know, a stronger reader.

He's actually spending time working in a library this summer at a university. So while that isn't what his major is as an undergraduate and possibly graduate student, you know, reading is a part of his life, from listening to recorded books in the car to having this book he's carrying around with him right now at this very minute.

MARTIN: Ron, I'll finish with you. Do you feel that - what I hear you saying is that first of all, there needs to be a consciousness about the importance of continuing to read and do some math, but also continue the sort of learning skills over the summer. Do you think that you're making headway there? Do you think that five years from now, if we get back and have this conversation, will we be having the same conversation?

FAIRCHILD: I sure hope not. I think we've been really encouraged to hear a lot coming from the U.S. secretary of education, from the president of the United States. We actually just had this past month, the Wallace Foundation announced a new $9 million investment to provide disadvantaged young people with more opportunities for learning during the summer months. We're seeing a lot of public and private partnerships, school districts innovating and coming up with new programs, non-profits expanding their work during the summer and taking on much more of a learning focus.

So I'm very encouraged after working - our organization's been in existence since 1992. It's really an unprecedented amount of support for the issue right now. We just need to translate a lot of that into major public investment and public support for something that clearly benefits not only our children when they're involved in learning, but all of us as well.

MARTIN: So Loriene, before we let you go, what are you reading right now?

ROY: I am reading - I just finished David Sedaris' "Naked." I just finished Adam Fortunate Eagle's book on Pipestone, a boarding school for Indian kids. And I'm just about to start either Ivan Doig's "A Whistling Season" because I received a copy of the sequel, which is "Work Song," so some terrific books. Summer is a time for me to start reading different things too.

MARTIN: Okay. Very good, Ron, what are you reading this summer?

FAIRCHILD: I'm actually in the middle of a new book called "Freedom Summer," which details the events in Mississippi in 1964.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, very good. So, Dani, what are you reading this summer?

TUCKER: "Manchild In the Promised Land" by Claude Brown. And reason being is I'm trying to get the kids into black literature like we were, coming up. So I'm reading that again, to get them to read Toni Morrison and more James Baldwin and Richard Wright. So...

MARTIN: Okay.

TUCKER: ...that's why I'm reading Claude Brown again.

MARTIN: Very good. Okay, Jolene, what are you reading this summer?

IVEY: I have a book that's been sitting next to my bed for a couple of months now. I read about a page a night and fall asleep. I can't even tell you the name of it I'm so tired.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IVEY: It's campaign season. You've got to forgive me.

MARTIN: It's campaign season. That's right.

Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker are our regular TELL ME MORE parenting contributors. They were with us from our studios in Washington. Loriene Roy is a past president of the American Library Association. She joined us from Minnesota Public Radio in Duluth, Minnesota. And Ron Fairchild is a CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. He joined us from Baltimore. I thank you all so much.

TUCKER: Thank you, Michel.

IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

FAIRCHILD: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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