Executive Director, Breakthrough New York
As the final school bell readies to ring his season, students are anxiously awaiting weeks of fun and relaxation. Summer is not the time to fall behind, especially for those heading to middle school.
Mounting evidence shows that the summer break widens the achievement gaps between high- and low-income students. The National Summer Learning Association, for example, reports that most students fall more than two months behind in math over the summer.
At Breakthrough New York, we shepherd low-income, high-potential students from middle school to college by providing extra tutoring, mentoring, homework assistance and other guidance. As a result 100% of our students go on to college.
However, spots are limited in programs like Breakthrough: this year more than 200 sixth graders vied for only 68 seats – and private tutors cost thousands of dollars. We can’t reach all students, but parents can.
I urge parents to put the brakes on this backpedaling. Students should move ahead, not backslide, while they are on break this summer. Recreation and exercise are important – but so is exercising your brain, cracking open a book, and exploring New York City.
With this in mind, I propose a six-point checklist for parents and students to turn summer learning loss into summer gain. They’re all free, or inexpensive, and valuable to students can head to the head of the class.
· Read, read, read. One of the many benefits that kids get from reading is a more robust vocabulary. This is particularly important for low-income students for whom vocab accessibility is frequently a stumbling block on standardized tests. Breakthrough’s favorite books can be found here: http://www.btny.org/wishlist/
· Keep a journal. Encourage students to start a journal and make frequent entries. The goal is to make writing enjoyable, not a chore, so write about any topics that come to mind. In addition to sharpening writing skills, which are vital for success in school and the job world, journaling helps children become more reflective and analytical.
· Get moving. Exercise is not only good for kids’ health; it also improves their cognitive abilities and academic performance, according to a new report from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. Organized sports have the added benefit of increasing kids’ social and cooperative skills. Even if they’re simply walking, running or biking in a local park, children should get at least one hour of vigorous or moderate physical activity daily.
· Explore new neighborhoods. On weekends, visit different parts of New York City. Too often, kids from low-income families rarely travel outside their own neighborhood. Expand a student’s worldview by embarking on outings to other neighborhoods to experience diverse cultures, hear different languages, taste ethnic foods, and see distinctive architecture.
· Experience the arts. Cultural enrichment experiences have been shown to help academic performance. Visit New York City’s world-class museums, many of which offer cheap – or even free – admission. Another option: explore neighborhood community centers, which often offer affordable art classes and music lessons to get creative juices flowing.
· Practice concentrating. Make sure to spend at least one full hour a day engaged in a solitary activity that does not involve browsing the internet, watching TV, playing a video game, or using a mobile device. In other words, no electronics! Reading, writing, drawing, or even meditating are great options that will boost a child’s attention span, as well as his or her ability to focus on schoolwork.
We drive home these points at Breakthrough New York. Summer should be a time to live and to learn.