This column aims to supply an answer to the seasonal “Why?” for the annual summer retreat from the conventional 180-day learning environment known as school.
According to the opinions of a number of people, school should not be closed during the summer. The argument is presented that America’s children lag scholastically behind their international peers and need all the education that can be earned from a nonintermittent classroom. As such, many argue plausibly, a schedule of consistent learning is necessary for students as current and future workers to be prepared to participate usefully in a world-based economy.
On the reverse side of the argument, however, is this: Schooling as the function of facilitating learning opportunities does not have to be in a state of temporary recession. Education can be continued in a variety of forms and forums for both the student and the teacher.
Dr. Stephen Covey wrote a book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Dr. Covey’s seventh habit is titled “Sharpening the Saw,” which espouses the enhancement of oneself as a person, which is the person’s greatest asset. Educators use this time to renew their teaching credentials and advance their teaching or administrative skills to foster added effectiveness in the classroom and the school as a whole. The annual break from school allows everyone (students, teachers, staff and parents) to recharge mentally and physically.
There is a corollary challenge associated with breaks from school: Studies have shown that possible regression in academics can be noted. However, activities that keep the brain active during the recess (whether the recess is an afternoon, weekend or a trimonthly period of time) will help with the recovery of any cognitive or academic decline.
Schools, churches and civic organizations offer excellent educational and recreational opportunities for schoolchildren during the summer recess. Parents should investigate and become participant-partners of these student-focused academic and character-building opportunities.
Summer breaks from school are not unique to American schools. They occur in nations across the world. However, some countries use the time away from school for students and staff to renew and re-energize. It is documented in a number of research-based studies that the absence of school results in the loss of learning across grade levels and subjects (especially reading) for the average student. This designated season to recharge the cognitive constructs of the brain is a necessary part of frameworking and securing good, high-quality schooling.
Note: Deficiencies in reading skills are documented to be one of the primary reasons for school failure. Sadly, a number of states project the number of prison beds they will need 10 years out based on the reading scores of second-graders. “Reading is fundamental” must become more than an overused, good-sounding phrase. Educators and parents must demand prominent space in the K-12 curriculum for the direct teaching of reading skills.
It would benefit schools to sponsor professional learning opportunities for teachers in the direct teaching of reading. Teachers at every grade level and in every subject can gain tremendous pedagogical insight from learning to introduce reading techniques to their students within the content they teach.
Needless to say, an understanding of content cannot be gained if students are unable to manipulate vocabulary in the content area. The maintenance of reading skills must move beyond the primary grades on to and through the middle school and early high school years. A professional learning model for the teaching of reading, for teachers beyond elementary school, would be powerful for the overall advancement of educational quality.
The summer break is an excellent and a right time to initiate a direct-teaching-of-reading program for the K-12 content teacher. A serious and comprehensive embracing of this direct teaching of reading for all teachers has the seminal promise to revolutionize educational attainment for the potential high-school dropout – forever diminishing the need to accommodate precious human and industrious capital in a prison cell.
Definitely, I believe this collaborative and mission-focused approach has the capacity to achieve the goal of promoting and assuring the academic success of the potential high-school dropout.
Parents and community partners could stand alongside the schools and churches, as the schools and their partners effectively shut down the pipeline to prison.
The writer – a former superintendent of schools for the Richmond County Board of Education – is executive director of Horse Creek Academy charter school in Aiken, S.C.