MAKING THE GRADE: Helping children keep up with their learning during the summer

By Daily News • Last Updated 2:55 pm on Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

Another school year has ended. For too long we have associated the summer break with the old saying, “No more pencils, no more books …”  But recently we have acknowledged that this so called carefree time can be a detriment to children’s learning particularly if they are struggling in school.

While we debate year round school and other solutions to this problem, there are things that are being done to address the problem and that we as individuals can do. Experts say that research shows that reading as few as six books over the summer can help to change the picture. Students who do this lose less ground and are better prepared to start back to school in the fall.

This issue was highlighted recently in an interview with Maranda on WOOD TV. She spoke with representatives from a wonderful coalition of area schools called the Reading Now Network. Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Peter Haines has been a leader in developing the program over the past two years. He made these comments about it:

“With over 100 school districts now committed to this ground-breaking collaborative effort, the Reading Now Network is a wonderful compliment to the wealth of strategies and interventions in reading we have on our own.  What is most important about this push is the abandonment of competition, and commitment to a higher virtue; improving the state of public education as a systemic model.”

This has not been easy because especially at the state level policy makers have encouraged schools to compete with each other, not cooperate. This has been very damaging because our children are not commodities for which we should be competing. We should instead be working together to assure that every child has a school worth attending. The Reading Now Network is evidence that educators understand this and are working together to do what is best for students. That is good news indeed.

Even better news is the rest of what was discussed in the Maranda interview. This news story is about a summer slide prevention strategy based in some research and presented in a way that makes sense to our communities, parents, and other partners.  It’s just a small piece of what is to come from the Reading Now Network.

In the interview,  Kyle Mayer, one of the regional superintendents and current Ottawa ISD curriculum administrator, his son Ryan, and Chris Stephens, who is retiring from Hopkins Public Schools, discussed some of the strategies parents and other adults can use when working with students during the summer break.  Reading is important. But books are not the only source of reading opportunities.

Here are a few other simple ideas that research has shown help to keep students engaged:

• Start written conversations by leaving notes for children.

• Create a summer memory book.

• Make use of “I’m bored” times by reading with or encouraging children to read.

• Choose five easy to find items when you are shopping and make a list for your child to find them.

• Finally, I found the five finger rule to be very useful when you are helping a child select books or other reading material. Have a child read a little from the book. Each time he or she has trouble with a word, raise one finger. If during this exercise, you raise only one finger, the material is too easy. If you raise five fingers, it is too hard.

Whether you are a parent, grandparent or just a friend, remember these ideas when you are working with a child this summer. You can be a powerful influence in his or her success in school.

 Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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