What We DO Know About Summer School

By Ben Hannemann, Director of Mission Advancement

A recent blog post on nprEd “What We Don’t Know about Summer School” raises some important questions about K-12 summer school programming across the United States. Despite well-documented research that most students experience a summer learning slide that requires teachers to spend four to six weeks to get students caught up in the fall, there is very little data and discussion around what makes summer school effective for students, and ensures that the millions of dollars spent on various summer programs throughout the country are being spent well.

In the interest of generating discussion about what we DO know about summer school, let’s take a brief look at an example of summer school success here in Milwaukee. To support the efforts of one of our partner schools, PAVE provided a three year catalytic grant to St. Marcus Lutheran School to help them establish a more rigorous summer school program. Nearly half of the roughly 750 students that attend St Marcus voluntarily register for this summer session. Students include rising 1st graders (k5) through rising 8th graders (7th grade) attending a four week summer program that runs daily from 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Academics are the morning focus, and enrichment activities (arts, music, athletics, etc.) are offered in the afternoon. Breakfast and lunch are also provided.

St. Marcus took this program to another level and made it unique by engaging the Center for Urban Teaching (CfUT), an urban education support organization with the mission to identity, prepare and support high-performing urban teachers. From the CfUt perspective, this program offers an excellent opportunity for the undergraduate teachers in their program to gain major, practical urban experience. It also gives the hardworking staff of St. Marcus the opportunity to pursue other non-teaching activities over the summer, to recharge and rejuvenate before the start of the traditional school year.

To ensure that the students of St. Marcus are the ultimate beneficiary of this approach, two weeks in advance of the summer program start date, the CfUT staff and undergraduate team worked together to prepare all elements of the academic curriculum, enrichment options, and parent engagement approaches. By studying gaps in learning identified by the most up-to-date St. Marcus WKCE scores, a customized academic unit was set up for the students. Pre and post-summer program tests were then given to each participating student. Outcomes of the 2013 summer session highlight the impact of this approach – the total school Reading Assessment showed a 4.9% improvement from pre (65.8%) to post (70.8%) and the total school Math Assessment showed 6.9% improvement, from pre (63.2%) to post (70.1%). The 2014 summer program wrapped up last week and we look forward to similar results again this year! And, as you can see in the video below, they also had some fun in the process.

So, although summer school is an under-researched topic, as indicated in the nprEd blog post, many individual schools are doing their own practical research and determining what is effective based on their own assessments. This enables them to improve their summer programs year-after-year and achieve long-lasting results, unique to their community and student’s needs.

How does your school evaluate its summer programs? If you have a student in a summer program, in what ways was it successful for him or her? What fundamentals make a summer program successful?

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