09/17/2013 06:41 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2013

Summer Learning Loss

As the summer ends and pre-K through 12 programs begin another school year, it is worthwhile to step back for a moment and reflect on the widespread problem of summer learning loss that occurs among children in primary and secondary schools.

The National Summer Learning Association reports that decades of research confirm that there is a significant loss in learning during the summer months. The Association notes that a large part of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. Indeed, the loss is particularly dire for students from impoverished families. This in turn has an obvious impact on high school graduation rates of the lower-income students.

It seems clear that school districts should devote increased attention to summer enrichment programs but many of these districts are facing fiscal challenges and cannot find funds for such programs. And, too often, the children in these districts are from the very families that cannot afford to pay for summer experiences.

I believe that colleges and universities--especially those with schools of education--can and should step in and fill this gap. Nazareth College's School of Education has developed a longstanding community partnership program that begins at pre-kindergarten level and continues through college. As part of this partnership we provide a number of summer learning opportunities for young students from local school districts. For example, we offer Horizons@Naz, a summer enrichment experience for students with limited financial resources. The five-week, full day program is committed to the development of the whole child through experiences that build problem-solving skills, foster awareness of community responsibility, instill respect for oneself and others, and encourage a life-long interest in learning. This past summer we had 45 first through third graders on our campus and intend to add an additional grade level until we have a first through ninth grade program.

A separate program, LifePrep@Naz, is an innovative program designed to provide individuals with disabilities with an opportunity to have a campus based experience at Nazareth College. This program is created through the collaborative relationship among Nazareth College, a local school district, and the ARC of Monroe County. It prepares students for success, not only in the classroom, but also at college gathering places, competitive work placements, and for life in the community following completion of the college experience. The program operates year-round, including the summer months.

For nearly four decades we have operated on campus the Marie Callahan Reading Clinic, which provides support to elementary and secondary students during the school year and the summer months as well. The summer session has a dual goal- to prevent summer loss as well as accelerate progress. Each student receives one-on-one instruction which focuses on his/her identified strengths or compensates for his/her needs. Another example is our "Books in a Box" program in which our TESOL graduate students supply books -much like a lending library--to students in their summer classes. We have a regular supply of books donated by members of the Nazareth community (faculty, staff, and students).

Finally, we offer four weeklong math and science camps on our campus for students in the fourth through eighth grades. To ensure access we provide scholarships for students from the Rochester City School District.

These kinds of summer learning experiences have great benefit for the many children who participate each year. It is equally clear that our faculty and teacher education students have wonderful opportunities to learn from these experiences. The Nazareth College School of Education community partnerships have turned the summer months into a time for fun, exploration, and growth for children in our region.