Avoiding the Summer Slide

For most students, summer break is a time to relax, unwind, and hit the pool. Students look forward to some well earned time away from school, studying, and homework. However, it is during this time that the “summer slide” occurs and students lose some of the knowledge and skills acquired throughout the school year. Although this phenomenon affects all students, students from low-income backgrounds and those with limited English skills are often impacted the most.

Growing up, I remember hearing students at school talking about what they had done over the summer: trips they had taken, museums they had visited, and summer camps they had attended. I, on the other hand, had a much different summer experience than most. My summers consisted of babysitting my younger siblings and cleaning houses with my mom.

For low-income students, like I was, the summer slide means significant loss of learning due to familial obligations as well as financial constraints. Additionally, students with limited English skills face an even bigger hurdle. For them, lack of exposure and practicing their English speaking, writing, and listening skills means that they fall further behind than their English speaking counterparts. Additionally, the loss of learning due to lack of access to enrichment opportunities has proven to be a “key element of achievement gaps between students from high-income families and those from low-income families”[1].

Studies highlight the value of voluntary summer learning programs[2] but the ultimate deterrent for many is the cost of these programs. For low income families, not only are these programs unappealing but they are financially impossible to participate in.

Therefore, according to Kentucky’s ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan, not only should we be measuring academic achievement in students but also the opportunities and learning experiences students have access to, including meaningful educational opportunities during the summer.

Although larger districts have low cost and free enrichment and educational opportunities for students, the same cannot be said for smaller, more rural districts. Beyond relying on the county’s public library, which for some is simply too far, many families are left with few, if any, options to provide these opportunities to their children. While there are various online resources that students could access at home, this idea functions under the assumption that students have access to technology and internet, which is not the case for all students.

While summer is about recharging our batteries, both as students and teachers, we cannot continue to allow our most at-risk students to fall further behind. As budget cuts continue to deeply impact the quality and quantity of summer opportunities, we need to get creative about how we can best serve students.

Instead of hastily collecting books before summer break, districts should consider loaning, or buying books if financially possible, for students to use and read throughout the summer. Giving students a choice of what to read, rather than requiring certain books  has been shown to empower students and create lifelong readers. Or, as a teacher, we can create meaningful summer assignments that combine learning with activities that students enjoy.

Students can participate in engaging summer learning activities through local YMCAs, rec leagues, and community centers. Oftentimes, it is simply a matter of looking at the resources available in your area.

Ultimately, I urge educators, administrator, parents, and community members to work together to create school-community partnerships to provide summer opportunities for students. Consider reaching out to community members to provide summer “internships” for students to explore their interests in certain fields of interest.

Although summer enrichment opportunities are not the silver bullet for eliminating the achievement gap, they are a step in the right direction.


Vilma Godoy is a teacher in Kentucky.