RCS offers tips to help keep students’ skills sharp over the summer

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 23, 2013

 Ben Fink, 8, reads a play aloud to his class during summer school in the Rochester Community Schools district.

Ben Fink, 8, reads a play aloud to his class during summer school in the Rochester Community Schools district.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ROCHESTER — There might be some truth to the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” when it comes to the loss of learning that occurs for children every summer.

Rochester Community Schools Community Relations Manager Debra Hartman said studies show that, over the summer, students tend to lose some of the academic gains they made during the school year.

In an effort to avoid what educators refer to as the summer slide, or lag in learning, she said the district has provided parents some fun and creative ways to engage their children in reading, math, science and art.

“We have such great parent involvement during the school year — the parents are very engaged in what’s going on in the classroom, so this gives them an opportunity to continue that engagement with their own kids,” she said.

In June, RCS Superintendent Robert Shaner and Rochester Education Association President Doug Hill created a podcast for parents encouraging them to have fun with their kids this summer while focusing on skill retention. The podcast encouraged parents to assist their children in practicing math, writing and reading skills while driving to vacation destinations, and even offered a few ideas for educational activities — such as having a child write journal entries about their summer adventures, or even starting a family book club, to model the importance of reading and writing in everyday life.

“It really wasn’t in response to any problems that we have with summer lag; it was just a way to support and enrich our students’ lives while they aren’t with us during the summertime,” Shaner said.

In July, the district sent out a newsletter with more summer learning-activity suggestions — this time, primarily for elementary students.

“We’ve been working with our curriculum department to focus on activities that parents can do with kids that are fun, but educational, too,” Hartman said.

Instead of a weekly journal, the newsletter encouraged parents to have their children create their own comic strip or comic book, or even a digital scrapbook.

“Parents can have their kids explain why they took that photograph, or drew that picture, and what it means to them — so they really keep their verbal skills strong, and keep them thinking analytically,” Hartman said.

On rainy days, parents were invited to foster imagination by having their children create something new out of recycled materials — along with other arts and crafts supplies — and then discuss the work and why certain decisions were made. District officials also recommended that parents and children cook together — which they say is an excellent way to work on reading and math skills. Hartman said the newsletter also included a couple of websites — some that are companions to the district’s textbooks and some that are not — that children could visit to play educational games that tie in with the district’s curriculum.

Before the end of the summer, Hartman said, the district plans to send out another newsletter focusing more on middle school and high school students.

“The goal is to do things that are fun, but also keep them sharp,” she said.

The district also offers a summer school program that Hartman said is designed specifically to help kids who need extra skill-building practice, as well as those who need to catch up on credits.