No summer letdown in year-round schools

Photo credit: Year-round schooling aims to fight the summer learning slide. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

Summer’s almost over. Kids are preparing to return to school.

They’re ready to get back into the classroom. They’re ready to see friends. And at three schools in Warren Consolidated Schools, they already are, a whole month ahead of the traditional start of back to school.

For WCS and a few other districts throughout Michigan, year-round schooling — or the balanced calendar as it’s sometimes called — is intended to address an important concern: How much have our kids lost in their learning through what’s known as the “summer slide.”

While it may sound more like a water park than an academic issue, summer slide is when many students — especially students with limited resources and those whose first language isn’t English — experience a real loss in learning over summer.

Summer slide is a lot like learning how to play the piano for nine months, stopping for three and then trying to play again. Forget playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight sonata.” Even “Chopsticks” may be a struggle.

Some studies estimate that over the three-month break, kids can lose up to 20 percent of everything they’d learned in the preceding year. The National Association of Summer Learning estimates that teachers sometimes spend as much as a month re-teaching materials — a month they could be spending teaching new information and skills.

That’s why WCS launched our balanced calendar program.

Last year, we announced our program to parents and received a lot of interest. Driven by their commitment to do what’s best for kids, teachers and staff helped make the program happen. The Board of Education deserves credit for green-lighting a relatively new yet hugely promising concept.

So, in 2013, kids in K-5th grade in three elementary schools took classes in a structured overall curriculum that ran from early August through mid-June. They attend the same number of school days as a traditional calendar because we build in periodic intercessions, including in October, February and early spring.

Our program was so popular that we’re expanding the balanced calendar to 6th grade in those three schools. Cost is minimal because operating costs such as air-conditioning and utilities are offset by the savings we get from intercession breaks throughout the year. And kids whose parents opt out are part of a program we have with sister schools to ensure that they stay connected with their lessons.

Kids are the real beneficiaries of Warren’s year-long program. They are in small school settings, with a single teacher concept. Subject areas are integrated and schedules are flexible.

Study after study shows that a balanced calendar contributes to better learning environments, greater achievement and higher retention rates. They’re also critical for enrichment and more intervention opportunities for children, plus more educational choices for parents.

More significantly, year-round schools have the greatest positive impact on children from low-income families. Learning over the summer not only helps all kids learn and succeed. It can also close the achievement gap. And our staff, board, students and parents continue to embrace this forward-looking concept.

WCS’s program is the first in Macomb County and one of only a few statewide. We are attracting the interest of parents and school districts from other communities — and we want to share our experience so all communities may consider this option.

While WCS’s program is still in its infancy, we see firsthand that kids who attend classes year-round are energized, motivated and excited about learning. As more parents, educators and policymakers discuss year-round schools in Michigan and nationally, we hope our positive experience can demonstrate how an academic innovation is putting kids first and helping them learn.

Robert D. Livernois is superintendent of Warren Consolidated Schools.

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