Summer Is Right Around the Corner. Is Your School Ready?

You’ve likely seen the research and read the reports about academic summer slide and how this contributes to the achievement gap. Coming from a principal who works in a Title I school, I’ll tell you this: It absolutely does. It also contributes to our country’s growing equity gap.

As the current principal of Forrest Elementary School in Hampton City Schools (VA), I knew I needed to look at what was happening with our students over the summer. In review of our end-of-year and beginning-of-year reading data, our students showed clear signs of reading backslide, from anywhere between 1 to 2 months based upon the DRA assessment. I knew I had to plan something to support our students this summer.

Where did I start?

I started with my data and shared it with the district leadership team. I did this to see if I could get a green light for even creating a proposal for their approval for summer 2016. I shared with leadership the research on summer backslide and I shared Forrest’s data so they could see this was a need for our community. When I got the green light I started to create a presentation to share with my leadership team. This led into all the other areas that you have to focus on to have a successful summer enrichment program.

The WHY, WHO, WHERE, WHEN and WHAT

With my leadership team we had to look at the data and come up with our rationale-our WHY. Why did Forrest ES need to provide programming during the summer and why did we need to provide students access to text over the summer. I had to ensure the staff understood and believed in the work that we needed to do. Programs are going to work best with what I refer to as the “coalition of the willing.” Those who understand the why, have the ability and the willingness to fully participate. I had to get the pulse on whether the staff would be willing to support this type of programming. So I brought the data to the leadership team, which includes the grade level chair from every grade, reading specialists, the math interventionist, the school counselor, and family engagement specialists. I knew I had the needed cross-section to get a good feel if this would work at Forrest for this summer.

Once I had the buy-in of the leadership team we had to think about the WHO. Would we focus on certain grade levels this summer? Would we focus on all grade levels? How many students should be included? How many students in each classroom? We decided because we already had a program for the rising first grade students that we would focus on rising 2nd-4th grade students. Rising kindergarteners and rising first graders were going to have opportunities over the summer to engage with their families around literacy using a different program – our Scholastic Literacy Events program. They were also receiving books through this program to ensure they have access to text over the summer. Knowing this allowed us to make the decision to focus on rising 2nd-4th grade students. This year, we will provide texts for 5th grade students to help curb summer backslide and those who qualify for the district’s summer school will attend summer school because it prepares them specifically for middle school. 

The WHERE might seem easy, but it’s not. Think about your school at the end of the year. The teachers’ complete close-out procedures. They box up everything, stack chairs and desks, cover all shelves and other materials, and shut down all technology. They have personal materials that they keep in their rooms. So, you have to really look and decide on the availability of classrooms early on in the process so that you’re not undoing work that teachers did straightening up their rooms. There are a lot of questions that might need to be answered related to location:

  • Are you keeping your library open? Are you keeping your computer room open?
  • Are you keeping your family engagement room open? 
  • What is going to be the access to space in your building while ensuring cleaning can be completed to start the school year?
  • Have you worked with the district custodial department to discuss this program and how it will impact cleaning of the building? 
  • Have you talked to food services if you are going to provide food for students? 
  • Have you discussed transportation with the transportation department? 

After deciding why, who and where, we had to think about the timeframe of the summer programming and access -- the WHEN. We had to decide when to start and end the program. For example, the staff said we need to stop the program at least two weeks prior to pre-service week for a few reasons. 1) The building needed to be cleaned and ready to go for the upcoming school year. 2) Teachers needed a break before coming back for the year and to prepare themselves for the school year. 3) Students needed time on their own to practice at home. So we decided to end three weeks prior to the pre-service week and provide fun reading and activities for the three weeks prior to school starting. They would have one week without specific resources. They will always have books to read or re-read.  They will have math games and resources they can replay.

Before we could fully lock in the WHEN, we also had to decided on the WHAT. What was the program going to feel like, sound like, look like? How was this program going to be different from tradition summer school? How were we going to frame this for students so they felt like they were chosen for something that was really awesome. Also, we knew we needed to work not just on the mind but also the heart. We needed to ensure the program includes academics as well as social and emotional intelligence. We wanted to focus on building strong character while having fun with reading and math.  The staff was great because they said we know all kids cannot come to the school and participate in the program, but can’t we provide books for all students to read over the summer? My answer was yes and there are models that have shown that providing access to text with ongoing contact via phone or mail will work for students.

We have found a program called LitCamp that can help us with the literacy and character part of the program. We have found a program called MathKidz that can help us with math. Both programs are designed around enrichment and fun. However, we still had to plan for the materials needed in the classroom and outside of the classroom in students’ homes. For example, for the literacy program to be effective, students needed to have access to a classroom reading library. Teachers need access to additional read alouds and the library. Teachers needed access to additional math manipulatives to ensure all students had the math games at home along with at school.

The team created a proposal to our district leadership. We created a PowerPoint that included the why, who, where, when, and what.  We created a budget sheet that included all costs including staffing, transportation, food, materials for at school, materials for at home, and enrichment activity costs.

We are going to measure the success of the program by utilizing our end-of-year data and comparing to our start-of-year data.  Every program that funding is spent on needs an accountability measure. This helps in guiding decisions for adjustments that need to be made to the program, continued budget, and support for expansion so all children can gain access.

Is this summer slide happening at your school? Is there a need in your community to provide this for your students?  Where might you start? If summer academic slide is present, it is contributing to both you academic achievement gap and your equity gap. How can you address this for your students?