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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Hannah Gale, left, Karla Lopez and Dayana Robles participate in writing during a summer school program at Oquirrh Hills Elementary School in Kearns, Monday, July 15, 2013.
They’re actually starting the fall lower than they should be and lower than some of the higher-income area students are. Each year they’re falling farther and farther behind their higher income peers. —Stephanie Linton

KEARNS — Megan Seewar likes basketball and writing, occasionally argues with her sister and is president of her local Torch Club, a student leadership and service group based out of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

In the fall, she'll be a sixth-grade student at Oquirrh Hills Elementary School in Kearns. But while most of her classmates are enjoying an educational break during the summer months, Seewar spent Monday morning practicing reading, writing and arithmetic at Oquirrh Hills Elementary School with a handful of her classmates.

"In the mornings I usually don't do anything but watch TV," she said. "This gets me out of the house."

Seewar is part of a 10-week summer school program at Oquirrh Hills, in which approximately 60 students meet daily from 8 a.m. to noon. The program offers instruction and practice in the traditional three R's of education, as well as music, art, science and physical fitness in an effort to help students be better prepared when classes resume in the fall.

"I think there's a lot less learning loss," said Ashley Worthin, an Oquirrh Hills para-educator who works with the program. "It places them in a safe area where they can do safe activities that are age appropriate and still fun."

The idea of summer learning loss, also known as "summer slide," in which students regress academically during the relaxed summer months, has long been a feather in the cap of year-round schooling advocates and a general point of concern for educators.

In June, the National Summer Learning Association conducted a survey of 500 teachers, in which two-thirds said they spend two to three weeks reteaching material to students at the start of a new school year.

On the association's website, the organization states that students score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer break than they do on the same tests in the spring, according to 100 years of research.

"When the school doors close, many children struggle to access educational opportunities, as well as basic needs such as healthy meals and adequate adult supervision," the organization's website states.

Officials have also seen the effects of the summer slide at the local level, said Stephanie Linton, a community school coordinator with the United Way of Salt Lake.

Last year, when no summer program was held at Oquirrh Hills due to a lack of federal Title 1 funding, students at the end of summer break scored an average 14 percent lower on DIBELS tests — a statewide language arts and literature assessment — than at the end of the previous school year.

The summer prior, with a regular four-week summer program at Oqirrh Hills, DIBELS score increased by 18 percent over the break, Linton said.

"We saw a significant increase in the summer learning loss," she said of the summer program's suspension.

Linton acknowledged that several factors likely contributed to the swing in test scores, but added that many local teachers have described a need to reteach last year's material at the beginning of a new school year. She said the summer slide is particularly present among low-income and minority students, who for a variety of reasons typically do not have the same academic engagement during the summer months.

"They’re actually starting the fall lower than they should be and lower than some of the higher-income area students are," she said. "Each year they’re falling farther and farther behind their higher income peers."

The Oquirrh Hills program is unique, Linton said, in that collaboration between the Boys & Girls Club of South Valley, the United Way of Salt Lake and Granite School District has allowed for the creation of a 10-week program, as opposed to the typical four- or five-week programs seen at many Title 1 schools.

The Boys & Girls Club of South Valley previously operated an after-school program at Oquirrh Hills but with the help of grant money from the United Way of Salt Lake was able to extend that school's regular summer course.

"This is kind of a unique program because this was an integration of two separate programs to make one," Linton said. "It was a total merge. We’re able to offer not only the summer school pieces but also the enrichment time."

About 60 students, from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, participate in the program, which runs Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon. On Fridays, students have the option of attending a field trip to places like the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake or the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said educators go to great lengths to encourage students to keep reading and learning during the summer months, but most fall out of the everyday learning habits that help them grow.

He said summer programs, while attended by only a handful of a school's total population, provide a benefit to students by offering fun but academically focused activities.

"Every student benefits from continuing to read through the summer and continuing to do activities that help them," he said. "If they’ve maintained those good habits through the summer, it helps their progress in the fall."

Brenda Hales, deputy state superintendent, compared academic learning to a physical activity like tennis in that without practice, a person will lose or weaken the skills they've developed.

"It’s inevitable if students don’t practice the skills that they learned during school time, they have a tendency to have some learning loss occur," she said. "Your brain needs exercise just as much as your body."

She said the amount of learning loss that occurs over summer break varies from student to student, but she generally agreed with the two- to three-week window of reteaching suggested by the National Summer Learning Association survey.

Hales suggested that to counteract a summer slide, parents should encourage their children to spend 20 minutes reading every day, as well as roughly 10 to 15 minutes of basic math or writing activities.

"If you keep those three things moving and you keep them fresh, then you’re going to do better as a students," she said. "You don’t have to spend a lot of time every day but just enough so they’re keeping in practice."

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