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Discussion: How Do Teachers Avert 'Summer Slide' by Students?

The school year has ended or will soon end for students in the Pittsburgh area. That means the start of summer vacation. 

Research shows that during the summer, students lose some of what they learned just weeks and months earlier. Experts say motivating kids to continue learning through fun and engaging activities, programs and camps can help bridge the end of one school year to the beginning of the next and ease or eliminate the summer setback.

In the final part of this week's series to kick off 90.5 WESA's Life of Learning initiative, Kevin Gavin sat down with four teachers from the Pittsburgh area to discuss how to mitigate the so-called “summer slide.”

Taking part in the discussion were:  

  • Teresa O’Neill, literacy coach at Propel McKeesport Charter School
  • Tricia Barbas, who teaches sixth grade communications and social studies at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy
  • Marcie Crow, fifth grade teacher at Mosside Middle School in the Gateway School District
  • Andrea Croft, kindergarten teacher at Edgeworth Elementary in the Quaker Valley School District

"The main thing that I know I’m planning this year is to definitely send the students home with some opportunities and options for what they can work on over the summer," Barbas said. "It’s kind of a gray area where you don’t want to say, ‘Here is your summer required assignment’ because you don’t know what kind of resources or access the students might have over the summer."
Croft said her emphasis is continuation of students' literacy skills over the summer.  

"I would definitely suggest to all parents, if you have a reluctant reader to go to that public library and talk to that child’s teacher about books that they like in the classroom or books that are popular in the library, so that you can encourage that," she said. "And finding books that your children like to read can definitely build their confidence throughout the summer and keep up those skills."

Marcie Crow said she told her fifth graders that learning doesn't stop when you exit the school building so she created a new program for the students for the summer.  

"I’ve given them a menu of choices to create a 'Leap List' and to give themselves experiences because we know when information makes sense and has meaning, they’re going to retain it," she said. "So when we come back in the fall, we’re going to be able to tie that information into what we’re doing in the future."

And do the teachers experience a summer slide with their students. Teresa O'Neill said "definitely."

"We do a lot of assessments at the end of the year including like the math, which is a nation norm test," she said. "Different assessments to gauge where the students are currently on their instructional levels and we give those exact same assessments when they return in August, and we are able to compare data to see is there a slide, why or why not."

So they give parents a lot of options for things to do over the summer, but ...

"We need to also just acknowledge the fact that’s not how every family is set up," O'Neill said. "There are a lot of grandparents raising children, there’s a lot of single parents raising children and they work in the summer. So going back to yes, there’s definitely a slide and then just what options can we give the parents to do at home but also the children and they know here’s a list of things that I can do at home even by myself if mom’s not here, dad’s not here, grandma’s not at home and take responsibility for my education and still be successful."