(The Hill) — The fast-approaching summer offers a precious opportunity for parents of students suffering severe learning loss from the coronavirus pandemic.
Schools and policymakers have been scrambling since the 2022 Nation’s Report Card last fall showed that students lost decades of progress in reading and math when they missed out on in-person classes. Now, students are set to leave the classroom again for three months.
Summer learning loss is not a new concept in education, but the focus on how to keep students academically and socially engaged for the vacation has new urgency as parents look for ways to ensure their children don’t fall further behind.
“I would say this is absolutely even more of a concern because so many of our kids, you know, really lost time learning time,” said Jodi Grant, the executive director of Afterschool Alliance.
Some of the more common tips parents have seen for years regarding summer learning are making sure their children play outside, read, write in a journal and do fun activities that involve math.
Since the pandemic, however, increasing emphasis is being placed on students’ social-emotional learning.
Chase Nordengren, principal research lead for effective instructional strategies at NWEA, a nonprofit education research organization, said he has heard from teachers that students have “less practice with the skills of school going.”
“They lost practice with being around other groups of students, working with them, compromising, resolving conflicts, a lot of the social skills that help students be really effective in a school environment,” Nordengren said.
“If anything has changed, I think it’s the importance of finding ways to reemphasize that, you know — making sure that students aren’t spending all summer sitting by themselves in a room, but are still getting accustomed to being around other kids and learning how to get along with those kids,” he added.
The National Center for Education Statistics found that 80 percent of public schools believe “socio-emotional development” was stunted in students in the 2021-2022 school year, and educators this school year have continued to sound the alarm on behavioral issues in the classroom.
One of the best ways to ensure a student keep up their academic and social education is through summer learning programs, which have received boosts in funding during the pandemic.
“Many of our districts have applied that funding to provide resources, whether it’s through tutoring or after-school programs. We are working right now with summer learning programs,” Parent-Teacher Association President Anna King said.
In order for summer learning to be effective, experts say, students have to want to go and it has to be made exciting for them.
“Summer school has all these bad connotations. But you can have summer learning that feels like camp, where kids can go to a place and the learning is built into the curriculum based on student’s passions and interests, but it doesn’t feel like school,” Grant said.
Last year, first lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona traveled to Connecticut, Michigan and Georgia to tout the money given towards these programs from the American Rescue Plan: $122 billion to all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The money came with the condition that local educational agencies put 1 percent towards evidence-based summer enrichment programs and 5 percent towards evidence-based programs aimed at addressing learning loss, such as summer and afterschool programs.
“Summer learning and enrichment programming is among the top strategies school districts are using to address missed instruction — and the American Rescue Plan is funding it,” the White House said, highlighting the programs would be “providing more opportunities for students — especially those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
But Grant, of the Afterschool Alliance, says not all of the funding is being used properly.
“Far too many school districts are not using the money for what we would call summer learning, which is really, you know, partnerships between schools and organizations in the community … We’re seeing far too many school districts just doing summer school or keeping it within the school as opposed to bringing in other resources in the community to help the kids,” she said.
While summer programs are a great option for students, there are areas where none are available or parents can’t afford the money or time to send their children to one.
When preparing for summer learning at home, it is important to connect with the student’s teachers to see what they have been learning and what resources the school might have for over the summer.
“I would say probably the first piece of advice would be to go to their child’s teacher and to think if there’s anything specific that they can give. Maybe even thinking about any goals that the students have set like throughout the year, and being able to expand on those over the summer,” Lauren Wells, manager for professional learning strategic accounts at NWEA, said.
While summer learning is important, King emphasized it is imperative that children do not feel punished over their long break.
The learning loss is concerning, but no one will be able to make it up in just three months.
“Enjoy the summer. Enjoy the summer together. Do anything and everything that you can with each moment with your children, or into them and just love on them. Love on yourself. We need our parents — our parents are so worried about getting their kids caught up that they forget that they need time for themselves,” she said. “Pour into yourself while you pour into your kids.”