Rosie Arnold - Education Programs Manager
Each spring, as the clock clicks down to the last moment of the school year, students are literally bouncing in their seats. They can’t wait for the freedom of summer. Baseball and soccer games, family vacations, and day camps await them. Summer is a fantastic time for exploring new things, going to new places, and spending time outside.
There’s just one problem. The summer that many of us imagine as being a magical time is a lot less than magical for many kids. For our most disadvantaged students, summer is a struggle. These are the kids whose families can’t take them on vacation or to visit museums or the zoo or send them to camp. In many cases, these students will spend their summer falling victim to the summer slide – the idea that over the summer students lose knowledge they gained during the previous school year. This naturally happens in some degree to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, but the most disadvantaged students experience it at a level three times greater than their more privileged peers. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University attributed two-thirds of the achievement gap between students from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds at grade nine to unequal summer learning opportunities over the students’ lifetimes.
Solving this problem is a major challenge, but we’ve taken a step in the right direction. This summer, we began a partnership with Summer Advantage USA, an organization that provides summer learning opportunities to the students who will benefit from them the most. During their five-week program, Summer Advantage scholars receive instruction in reading and math, as well as participate in enrichment activities, including a weekly field trip. Every Friday for the past few weeks, we’ve hosted Summer Advantage scholars from various Indianapolis-area schools at Conner Prairie. During their time here they’ve participated in special programs that include everything from getting up close and personal with earth worms and making square bubbles to learning how technology helps shape the guest experience at 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana.
It is exciting to work with an organization like Summer Advantage that is making progress at stopping summer learning loss. Rather than losing knowledge, over the past few years, Summer Advantage scholars have demonstrated significant gains in reading and math. They’re getting to go to the museums and other attractions in their community that might inspire them to keep learning. They get to explore and play and have some of those special summer experiences that every kid dreams about. Best of all, soon they will be back in the classroom, on even footing with their peers, ready to meet the challenges of a new school year.