About Claire McMahon

"Knowledge indeed is a desirable, a lovely possession." Thomas Jefferson

Summer slide. Summer brain drain. All teachers know what it is no matter what you call it. Students forget over the summer. Math and reading skills will fall by the wayside no matter where you teach. How much the students lose does depend on where you teach. The lower the average income of the parents the more skills the students lose over the summer. The students from a lower socioeconomic status (SES) are already exposed to fewer words per day than the average student from a middle or higher income household. Now think about those students that are already at a huge disadvantage just by looking at vocabulary exposure and take away those precious hours in school for two months. These students are not the ones going to camp, playing on sports teams or hanging out with mom and dad at a museum or park; these are the students staying at home and playing video games or playing in the streets. The first few months of the next school year are then spent playing catch up, instead of learning new skills or building background knowledge for all of these new tests.

These parents are unaware that affordable opportunities are available to them. Libraries are always a great resource for museum passes or story time. In New York City Public Schools every school has a parent coordinator who has resources available to parents. It is our job as educators to educate the parents as well as the students. As an ESL out of classroom teacher I’m able to hold workshops to inform parents of various activities available to their children over the summer. Just by creating a handout to send home would make a difference. Not every parent will be able to attend the workshop or read the handout, but if one student is able to benefit and therefore be able to keep some of the skills learned during the school year, than you were able to make a difference. Google can be your best friend in this situation.

The facts also beg the question, why not have school all year? Wouldn’t that make up for the summer slide? It would take away all the months of playing catch up during the next grade. But what about the upper and middle class students? They are able to spend the summer doing enrichment activities such as camps, sports and museum visits. They also get to spend quality time with mom and dad and other family members. Would it be fair to take away that time from that student population? Should a twelve month school year be reserved for students from a lower SES? If that’s the case, where is the line drawn? How could it be fair and balanced? The ten month school calendar was not made up for enrichment activities. It was made based on a farming society that largely does not exist in this country. Most American students don’t need the time off to help with the family farm (in most cases, I’m not dismissing the fact that we do have family farms).

This has been a debate for a while now. However, teaching in an inner city school, both during the school year and during summer school, has allowed me to see just how different my summer was growing up and how my students spend their summer. I try to help out the parents as best I can because I feel that right now it is all I can do. If the school calendar does change it won’t be in the near future.


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