2015-08-06 / Front Page

Summer Academics Limited

By Olga Enger

Long, hot summer days mean “no more pencils, no more books” for many American students, but the extended vacation may have academic consequences.

By the end of summer, students perform at levels that average one month behind where they left off in the spring, according to RAND, a nonprofit research company. The impact is cumulative over the years, and children of low-income households are impacted the greatest.

Summer enrichment programs have been shown to lessen learning loss, yet due to stretched budgets and decreased funding sources, local districts are unable to provide enough summer programming to the entire student body.

“Summer programs are offered only to our neediest students,” explained Newport Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Booth. The city offers summer school to students who are falling behind academi- cally. The programs are funded through grants intended for lowincome education and offered free of charge.

“You get the money, because of the poverty. You use the money for the neediest students academically,” explained Booth. “I wish we could offer open enrollment as enrichment.”

Similarly, Middletown public schools provide an invitation-only program for students falling behind academically. Parents may be charged a fee of up to $250 to enroll, although the cost may be waived for qualifying families.

Approximately half of suburban districts charge tuition for summer programs, according to the Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association.

Last year, the Rhode Island Department of Education ruled that districts are permitted to charge a fee for summer school, after a Cumberland family filed a lawsuit challenging the practice. The Rhode Island Basic Education Plan, which sets out the minimum requirements for public schools, does not require districts to provide summer school. Some communities do not provide summer school, forcing students to take courses in other districts for a fee.

The Middletown district offers an open enrollment enrichment camp at the Gaudet School, but there is a fee of $100 per week. Although the program is priced competitively, it does not offer a sliding fee for low-income families.

“Funding has been cut significantly,” explained camp program director Abigail Dunn. When Middletown first applied for the Child Opportunity Zones (COZ) grant 20 years ago, which helped fund the camp, they were awarded $20,000. This year, only $4,500 was awarded —a reduction of almost 80 percent.

Newport uses a comparable COZ grant in conjunction with a Century 21 grant to fund a summer camp at Pell School, but it is only offered to elementary students who are academically behind. There is no fee for the Newport program.

The academic “summer slide” has been a longtime challenge for local educators.

“We all need a summer break,” said Booth. “But there must be a balance. Come fall, teachers are trying to make up what students have lost over the summer. There is a tremendous amount of material that teachers are responsible for covering throughout the school year. If they are spending the first part of the first quarter reviewing, we are losing time.”

Students are invited to summer school based on assessments, as well as teacher recommendations. The program is designed to catch students up on a subject or school project, rather than general education.

“We don’t have a lot of students who attend summer programming to graduate; it is more targeted,” Booth explained. “For example, if a student failed fourth quarter algebra, they would get targeted instruction on that material through an online program. If they didn’t pass math, that puts them behind for the graduation requirements. Or sometimes students just need to finish up a project and are out of here in three days.”

To keep up progress during the summer, Booth recommended the “tremendous” programs available at the Newport Public Library and home study.

“Read to your child 20 minutes a night, every night, not just during the school year,” Booth urged parents. She added, parents should begin preparing for school this month.

“As we approach the end of August, I think parents need to get children back into school mode. Go to bed earlier. So we don’t hit Sept. 8 and everyone comes in sleepy-eyed,” said Booth. “I hate to see the back-to-school ads come, but they send the message. Students need to get back to a school schedule."

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