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Summer Fun...and Summer School?

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Updated on Jun 9, 2008

As the school year winds to a close and kids face 2 ½ months of summer freedom ahead, many parents will be concerned about how the big summer break will affect their child's academic learning and, ultimately, test scores come September.

Experienced teachers complain that summer learning loss is a very real problem. Experts estimate that anywhere from one to 2 ½ months of the previous academic year's learning will be lost – and have to be regained – by the beginning of the next school year. Sally A., a Sylvan Learning Center representative who has also worked with children in the public school system, says, "It's like the whole month of September you're playing catch up, even into October. Some kids are fine, but then there's the other extreme."

For parents who worry that their child might be one of the many who will struggle to catch up in the fall, could summer school be the solution?

In some states, summer school enrollment has reached record highs in recent years due to high failure rates on standardized tests. Failing standardized tests in math and reading can jeopardize a student's chances of moving on to the next grade. Some states, like New York, have even instituted "mandatory" summer school for its failing students, of which more than 40,000 have been "ordered" to attend this summer. These students must pass math and reading tests in August in order to be promoted to the next grade.

Besides failing grades, some parents (and students) choose to attend summer school for other reasons: for fear of falling behind, or to stay competitive with peers who will be competing for places at top-tier colleges a year or two down the road.

How can a parent determine whether their child would benefit from attending summer school? Many parents will be notified by their children's school districts that there child is eligible and encouraged to attend summer school. For those that aren't, Sally A. suggests, "If you feel that in the past they've had that kind of [significant] summer slip, it would be good to take them in and get an assessment done." Some learning centers, like Sylvan, offer assessments which can pinpoint subject areas in which a child may be weak. They then offer individualized programs designed to focus exclusively on helping the student overcome specific trouble spots. The downside to such focused and quality individual attention is that it comes at a financial cost to the parents.

On the other hand, learning does not only take place in the classroom. While a formal summer school setting can certainly help some students, others who don't need a lot of specific help in core subject areas might benefit more from other enrichment programs, academic and non-academic alike. With summer camps, sports programs, arts and music programs, and even local library-sponsored summer reading programs, there are plenty of educational – and fun – opportunities for kids during the summer. Organizations like the YMCA, as well as local Community Centers and Community Education programs, often offer interesting and fun activities that can help keep kids stimulated and learning, while offering a break from the formal class environment and schedule.

Whether your child finds himself in school this summer or not, remember to make healthy doses of fun activities available as well!

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