Local school district offers ways to avoid ‘summer slide’
May 3, 2016
The end of the school year is now just a month away, but the Summit School District is already doing its best to get ahead of the dreaded "summer slide."
The phenomenon is basically the loss of achievement gains made during the prior academic year, exhibited through lower proficiency once students return to class in the fall. In some cases, it can take as long as two months for out-of-practice students in the skills of math and literacy to recover what was lost in that time away from the classroom.
"It's a real thing," said district superintendent Heidi Pace. "We've known it all along anecdotally because we see it, but there's a lot of research that backs it up. It's a problem and a concern for all educators everywhere."
She compares it to a soccer player who doesn't kick a ball for an extended period of time but believes he or she can pick their previous skill level back up right away. It's just rarely the case.
“With cyber safety and social media,” Madsen said, “technology is changing so fast that it’s a lot of times parents don’t even know half of the apps and technology that their kids are using.”Matt Madsen program manager for FIRC
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"Reading and math are skills that you have to practice on a regular basis," she said. "So it's the same idea."
In response in order to help prevent this skill degradation, the district participates in various summer activities, such as sending elementary students home with books for the extended break, opening the school libraries to sponsor book exchanges among students and partnering with the local libraries, too. The district also works with the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, or FIRC, and together recently hosted an event focused on summer opportunities for students and families via their ongoing "Dialogue Over Dinner" series.
The overall goal of these family-first, dialogue events is to present sometimes difficult subject matter, so parents better understand how to approach their children about them, explained Matt Madsen, program manager for FIRC. Usually, a panel of local experts and professionals is on hand to engage families and lend advice.
"Our focus is on healthy families, and through strong families you get a strong community," he said of FIRC. "So what we try to do is really look at what sort of issues are relevant and kind of hot topics in the community, and we just want to try to provide a forum and bring together a discussion around those."
During "Dialogue" events this school year, topics included suicide prevention, digital safety amid an ever-evolving social media landscape and also marijuana use. Perhaps not the most comfortable subjects for parents to address, the idea is offer a chance and lend a hand in helping them do so, with the necessary resources for support.
"With cyber safety and social media," Madsen said, "technology is changing so fast that it's a lot of times parents don't even know half of the apps and technology that their kids are using, so it's a great opportunity for that. With the legalization (of marijuana), it's always kind of a topic that parents want to know how to be able to talk to their kids about it."
Front and center
The matter of losing skills gained while in session at school may be of the softer variety, but neither the school district nor FIRC take it lightly. With the district having already hosted a youth summer activities fair in March with an emphasis on children under 11 years old, the focus of the "Dialogue" event this past Thursday was on middle- and high-school-aged students while serving up a meal.
Study after study shows lower scores on standardized tests following summer vacation than on the same exams before students left for break. Research proves the diminished results are especially apparent within lower-income families.
"It's typically because of unequal access to summer opportunities," said Pace. "We (want) to help student keep their skill level up, and, when they come in, we're not going backwards before we can go forward; we can just go forward."
To ramp up those available options for parents and their children, FIRC brought in community organizations offering a diverse set of activities this summer to keep kids — and their minds — occupied and active. Those included such groups as the Silverthorne Recreation Center, Keystone Science School and Colorado Learning Connections, all with their own summer programming.
Still, more agencies were on hand. Colorado Mountain College (CMC) will host a unique chance for students age 11 through 14 to spend their first week out of school, at their Breckenridge campus. From June 6-10, space exists for 15 students to participate in a media and technology camp.
"The Summer Technology Institute is all about giving kids a voice through technology," said CMC photography instructor Matt Lit. With the intensive, one-week and team-based format, attendees naturally find their way into various media to contribute to the final project presented to the public at the end of the week.
As of Thursday evening, six slots remained open for the CMC camp, which teaches participants such skills as photography, video, website building and graphic design work. The week-long clinic costs $495 and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. For more information or to sign up, visit: http://www.summertechnologyinstitute.com.
Something for everyone
For those perhaps less inclined to enroll in additional class during the break, there are ample chances to get involved, too. The Mountain Mentors program was in attendance Thursday as well to share with families the availability of its recently expanded Teen Center in Frisco.
The center, open after school Monday through Thursday and located in the lower level of the County Commons, will shift to summer hours on Monday, June 6, 1-4 p.m., also Monday through Thursday. All Summit County teens, ages 12 to 18, are invited to drop in whenever they would like, free of charge. There, they can enjoy a safe environment with peers and learn about volunteer opportunities and other community events in which to be involved.
"Kids don't have as much going on," said Shawna Gogolen, Mountain Mentors supervisor of the summer. "They were maybe too young for a job or out of sports. That's when we sign kids up regularly, so that's what we're hoping for again."
Summit County Library also makes it easy to go at your own pace. The community staple has put together a sports-themed summer reading program this year, telling youths, "On your mark … Get set … Read!" and teens to "Get in the Game: Read."
The teen summer reading program at each of the library's three locations in Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne, starts Saturday, June 4. For every eight hours read, participants get a free book, and there will be a grand-prize drawing at the end for a gift basket valued at $200.
The children's programs gets going just a few days later, on Tuesday, June 7. Prizes and other goodies to encourage participants to read will also be handed out. And in conjunction with the youth program, for the first time, the library will host an adult reading program — "Exercise Your Mind" — to get everyone in the family involved.
"One of the best ways to encourage kids to read is for them to see their parents and other grown-ups around them," said Monica Owens, teen and adult programmer at the South Branch in Breckenridge.
The library also seeks teen volunteers at each branch to assist with to help with the additional youth events going on throughout the summer. For more information on that or the summer reading programs, visits: http://www.summitcountylibraries.org.
As "Dialogue" attendees saw this past Thursday, those are just a handful of the available options throughout the county for students this summer. With a little investigation, there's something for everyone, but both Summit School District and FIRC encourage families to get their children signed up for at least one to avoid the summer slide.
"The summer is when parents are busy working," said Madsen, "and they (should) make sure that their kids have healthy outlets and opportunities during that time."