Home Susan Yerkes The summer slide

The summer slide

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The summer slide isn’t a ride at Schlitterbahn.

It’s what happens to millions of students in the U.S. education system during vacation  — especially ones who are struggling — as they lose or forget what they’ve learned over the academic year.

With the break looming, I’m wondering if there’s a better way to teach.

I started thinking about the problem after attending a recent education roundtable hosted by Communities in Schools, an incredible nonprofit bringing community resources to campuses to help students succeed.

During individual table discussions, Rad Eanes, a business owner and CIS board member, made an eloquent argument for extending courses into a yearlong format to help with retention of lessons.

The concept, sometimes called “year-round school,” doesn’t actually change the number of days kids attend class. It just stretches instruction across the calendar by shortening the summer hiatus and giving children more extended breaks during the year.

“Research over many decades proves that virtually every student slides back in the learning curve over the summer,” Eanes said. “The slide is much greater for low-income children, who are less likely to have enriched learning experiences in the summer.”

I was fascinated. I’ve always questioned, with most parents working all year and an antiquated calendar based on an agrarian economy, why does America still maintain an outdated system?

The biggest reason is probably that change is hard — but not unheard of.

Castle Hills Elementary School, a North East Independent School District public magnet campus, has used the year-round system since 1992, and test scores annually surpass state averages.

“Our district is committed, our staff is committed and the families love it,” said Principal Betsy Asheim. “Three months in summer is just too long for kids, and this way, right when teachers and students are getting to the point of stress, we take a break.”

This year, the San Antonio Independent School District launched a similar model at Lamar Elementary School in Mahncke Park.

“It’s a really positive thing for us,” Principal Brian Sparks said.

With 75 percent of its students classified as “economically disadvantaged,” Lamar is a good candidate for the program. Although it’s too early to see how test scores are affected, there’s a quantifiable gain in enthusiasm – enrollment has jumped from about 220 students in 2013 to 360 today. Sparks expects 420 students next year.

From 1993-98, Nimitz Middle School went year-round. Joe Reasons, now an NEISD executive director of school administration, was principal there from 1991-97.

“You don’t see overnight results,” said Reasons, an advocate. “You see slow, steady progress, and that’s what we saw, just like Castle Hills. Failure rates went down and academics went up in all the core subjects. Some parents worried their kids couldn’t stay in electives or athletics, but they came in to practice; those things were not a problem.”

The program comes with a higher price tag – another big reason year-round school isn’t universal. Nonetheless, would it be worth it in the long run? Dear readers — parents, teachers and former students — tell me what you think.

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