Op-Ed: Summer Learning

For many students across the Commonwealth, early June marks the beginning of their long-awaited summer vacation.  They take final exams, sign each other’s yearbooks, return their textbooks to school administrators, clean out their lockers or cubbies, and enjoy parties celebrating the completion of another year of school.  These typical end-of-the-school-year rituals build up anticipation for when the last bell finally rings and school is officially out for summer. 

Students flood out of the school doors towards their newfound freedom, excited to fill their days with anything but the schoolwork they’ve endured for the previous nine months.  Many will attend summer sports camps, enjoy a family vacation, or even apply for a part-time summer job to earn a little extra cash in their downtime. 

Summer is a time filled with opportunity for students.  They are finally free from the structure of the classroom, and able to engage in whatever activities they like.  However, without any structure, students become susceptible to “the summer slide,” or the loss of knowledge gained throughout the school year due to a lack of intellectually stimulating activities during the summer. 

In simpler terms – if you don’t use it, you lose it!

In fact, most students lose two months of mathematical skills every summer, and nine out of ten teachers report spending at least three weeks re-teaching lessons at the start of the school year to make up for the negative impact of the summer slide.

Further, the summer slide can disproportionately affect struggling students, as the achievement gap that exists during the school year only widens during the summer, putting these students at an even larger disadvantage come September. 

Fortunately, innumerable non-profits, daycares, summer camps, museums, internship programs, libraries, and community centers have recognized the value of summer learning and created diverse opportunities for students with varying interests, ages, and financial ability.  From sports camps, to science-based summer learning programs, to nature and outdoor recreational activities, there are countless ways to keep kids engaged and learning during the summer months.

Yet, plenty of educational and enriching opportunities exist in our own homes and communities.  For example, the National Summer Learning Association recommends ideas like planting a garden, reading every day, volunteering in your community, visiting local parks or libraries, and even writing in a summer journal to keep kids sharp and engaged.

As the co-chairman of the Senate Afterschool Caucus and the father of two young children, I have a special interest in afterschool programs and summer learning.  In fact, each year my colleagues and I introduce a resolution in the Senate that designates a day in July as “Summer Learning Day,” in conjunction with a national movement to promote the value of summer learning. 

The resolution states that the Pennsylvania Senate believes that summer learning is a critical component of our collective effort to ensure that all students graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and life, and as such, it supports the programs that provide these essential opportunities.

I am thankful that my family and I live in a community that offers so many excellent summer learning opportunities.  For example, Lancaster County’s network of exceptional public libraries, located in every corner of the county, offer a diverse selection of summer activities.  The Eastern Lancaster County Library in New Holland, for example, has a jam-packed calendar of events it hosts throughout the summer, ranging from bilingual story time for children, to yoga classes, to “crafternoon” – there truly is something for everyone.

Another local youth summer opportunity that is very fitting for Lancaster County culture is the Heritage Creek Farm Camp in Mount Joy, an educational initiative that encourages a healthy lifestyle, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. 

Situated on a 30 acre, family-owned farm in the heart of the county, Heritage Creek Farm Camp allows children to plant seeds, experience the harvest season, develop an understanding of plants and animals, and learn to respect and protect our natural resources.  The Camp’s mission is to, “encourage a life-long ‘yearning for learning’ and teach a simplistic and cooperative way of living.”

Whether at home, in the community, or through a private organization, all summer learning programs and activities have this in common:  They keep kids learning, safe, and healthy during the summer, and ensure that they are able to return to school in the fall ready to succeed in the year ahead.

I encourage you to explore summer learning opportunities at home and in your community to beat the summer slide and continue the education process throughout the year.