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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Camp Aims To Prevent Learning Loss

A student at the final recital at MECA Summer Day Camp in Houston, Texas. (Randall Pugh/Flickr)

A student at the final recital at MECA Summer Arts Day Camp in Houston, Texas. (Randall Pugh/Flickr)

For kids who haven’t been flexing their brain muscles over the summer, they may be a bit rusty when school starts up.

A recent study by John Hopkins University found that by ninth grade, summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap between low income students and their more well-to-do peers.

The study also found that summer learning loss can affect whether a child ultimately graduates high school, or drops out.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Laura Isensee of KUHF in Houston reports on a summer camp with the goal of making sure students don’t fall behind.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. And as school gets back into session across the country, the big question is, just what did kids spend their summers doing? Hopefully something educational, because a recent study by Johns Hopkins University finds that by ninth grade, summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income students and their more well-to-do peers. The study also found that summer learning loss can affect whether a child ultimately graduates high school or drops out. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, KUHF's Laura Isensee reports on a summer camp in Houston whose goal is to make sure that doesn't happen.


LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: At this summer camp, students are writing their own music but with computer programming. It's at MECA, a community group that promotes the arts. Some students know how to play a musical instrument. Many don't know music at all. Teacher Kevin Bicol checks out the latest creation.

KEVIN BICOL: You got a song already? All right. What's the title of your song though?

ANGELINA RABAGO: "Brain Explosion," because it will blow your mind.


BICOL: They're just using electronics to make music. So the goal of the camp is really to make electronics as an art type deal.

ISENSEE: He says students have to flex their creative muscles. That helps with the more technical stuff.

BICOL: I know this stuff will stick because it's not math problems. It's not, you know, formulas. It's, oh, I learned how to program because of a song I wrote.



RABAGO: It has a fart at the end.

ISENSEE: Fun is a big part of this camp, but that's not what it's all about. It's a way to keep kids learning over the summer so they don't fall behind in school. Angelina Rabago is going into fifth grade. She says if she wasn't at camp, she wouldn't be doing much.

RABAGO: At home on my laptop, of course, or checking my phone or something.

ISENSEE: Educators see this all the time. It's a problem known as summer learning loss. Think of it as use it or lose it. Here's how Sarah Pitcock with the National Summer Learning Association explains it to students.

SARAH PITCOCK: And I say what do you think LeBron James does in the offseason? You know, do you think he sits on the couch and eats potato chips? And they say, No, no, no. He practices. He works out. And I say, all right, well, summer is your off season. It's not your chance to sit on the couch and eat potato chips. It's your chance to get even better.

ISENSEE: Pitcock says decades of research show all kids lose math skills over the summer if they don't practice. On average, it's about two months' worth. When it comes to reading, children from middle and higher-income families stay on track or even improve. But poor children fall behind in reading - again, two months or more. The loss adds up year after year. So by the time a low-income child is in fifth grade, they can be two and half years behind students in higher-income brackets, just because they missed out on learning over the summer. Anna Babin is with the United Way of Greater Houston.

ANNA BABIN: This research really kind of prompted us to say we need to get serious about investing in some resources this summer to kind of turn the tide on summer learning loss.

ISENSEE: So this year Houston's United Way invested $250,000 in different summer programs. One is about digital game design, another has teenagers making movies and robotics. And then there's this electronic music camp where some of the music actually starts to sounds familiar.


ISENSEE: For HERE AND NOW, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston.

HOBSON: Still to come on HERE AND NOW, can Historically Black Colleges like Howard University get over financial woes. That story is next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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