Every year, Kim Schmidt, a math teacher specialist at Brunswick Middle School, sends her students home for the summer with a packet of math worksheets to continue learning during the break. When students come back in August, she can tell which ones did the work.
“I find that generally students who have worked on it tend to keep up,” Schmidt said.
But when students let schoolwork gather dust during the summer, getting back in class mode is a battle. They struggle with simple facts and operations, and often have to re-learn basics before they can tackle new material.
“Students lose it just over the summer,” Schmidt said. “Nine weeks is a long time.”
But despite her efforts to prevent it, Schmidt ends up battling summer drain every year. Although she warns students and parents about the pitfalls of summer, she estimates about 30 percent of her students do all the work she gives them.
“We are not asking them to do tons of math,” said Schmidt, who recommends students do about a page per day. “With the new Common Core curriculum it is going to be really important.”
Schmidt is not alone. Across Frederick County and around the nation, educators are voicing concerns and searching for ways to combat summer drain.
A study conducted in 1996 found all students lose at least a month’s worth of knowledge and skills during summer break. The drain is more acute in math, where students can lose as many as two months.
Summer drain also is harder on students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who often don’t have resources to attend summer enrichment camps and programs. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, about two-thirds of the achievement gap for lower income students can be traced back to what happens during the summer, said Jeff Smink, vice president for policy with the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association.
“We have this idea of summer being a great time for children,” he said. “But it is not the same for all children.”
While summer for middle-class students can be filled with educational museum visits and other opportunities, lower-income children often can spend the break at home with no such access, Smink said.
The NSLA is encouraging school districts to rebrand summer school, transforming it from a punitive measure for struggling students into a more exciting learning opportunity, such as camp-like programs.
Frederick County also has been a part of that trend, said Steve Lockard, deputy superintendent. While local schools continue to provide students with summer learning opportunities, some schools, such as Green Valley Elementary, are using their own school-based funds to have “kick-start” summer programs to ready students for the school year, Lockard said in an email. The program is set to start late July or early August.
Some of the system’s Title 1 schools also are having special programs, Lockard said.
Although educators encourage parents to participate in such programs, they also say parents can do a lot on their own.
Something as simple and fun as cooking with your children, can help them practice fractions — which often tend to stumble students after the summer, Schmidt said. Involving students in grocery shopping, doing logic puzzles or using time while driving to review multiplication and division can do wonders in helping children refresh their knowledge.
The Frederick County Public Libraries also offer free learning opportunities for the summer, said Janet Vogel, children’s services supervisor.
Aware of the summer drain problem, library officials have been expanding their summer enrichment programs, Vogel said. Sponsored by local non-profits, the library’s reading program for example, provides students with reading incentives, and has expanded to nonfiction and periodicals. The program this summer already has more than 8,200 students, Vogel said. Students can sign up for the program until Aug. 11.
The libraries also are looking to offer more math and science enrichment, such as the Phun with Physics summer program, where students can study examples of weird science by mummifying volunteers in shrink wrap and find out how the Flaming Wheel of Death works.
Frederick County parents like Kelli Moss appreciate the increased attention to summer learning. During the summer, Moss and her two children — 9-year-old Samuel, who is homeschooled, and 11-year-old Avery, a rising sixth-grader at Walkersville Middle School — try to keep learning fun and ongoing. The two participate in the library reading program and are working to log 50 hours of reading during the summer.
“My goal is to do work every day,” Moss said. “But usually it ends up being three to four times a week.”