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Saturday, 05 January 2013 00:00

How Are You Planning to Spend Your Summer Vacation?

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You might not be thinking about summer, but I think it's the perfect time to ask yourself what the youth in your programs will be doing this summer.

The summer experience that was most memorable for me was a sewing class I took in elementary school. My mom was an avid seamstress and made clothes for me and for my dolls. I thought I might design fashion-forward clothes for me and my Barbies if I learned to sew. So I signed up for an intro class at a fabric store with some friends. The instructor had a store to tend to and a group of girls who knew nothing about sewing to teach. I think we got the short stick. I didn't think the instruction was good enough, so I organized a walkout. While I never did get good at sewing, I did learn an important lesson--advocating for what I thought was right. Lucky for me, my parents respected my judgment and didn't make me go back. I spent the rest of the summer visiting my neighborhood library and reading through the selection for young readers. I also spent a lot of time outdoors playing with friends, and learning social skills until after dark.

For some kids, summer is a time to travel and learn new skills, visit the library and read what interests them, or get introduced to new technology at camp. What will the students in your after-school programs learn this summer? How will they spend their time from June until the start of school in the fall? That's a lot of time to go deep and pursue hobbies, explore new interests, or find a passion. Or, it can be a time to unlearn skills mastered through hard work over the school year. Unlike when I was little and could spend hours outdoors running around the neighborhood or exploring new territories many of the kids we serve don't have these options. Their neighborhoods aren't safe and their opportunities are more limited.

Summer learning can help close the achievement gap. Unfortunately, for many kids what they learn in summer only increases the gap. In fact, two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading can be attributed to summer learning loss. We know about summer learning loss, and what it can mean for kids who aren't engaged. What can we do about it?

I encourage you to talk with the kids in your after-school program about their plans for summer starting now. In Techbridge, we spend time discussing programs available in parks and recreation centers, at science museums and zoos, and on college campuses. We invite others kids to share out on what they did last summer and recommend their favorite programs. There's nothing like peer-to-peer recommendations to help turn kids on to learning. We also encourage role models who visit our after-school programs to talk about the summer programs they participated in as youth and what they learned. For one role model, an engineering camp on a college campus introduced her to a lifelong love for engineering. For another, a summer internship led to a job at Google. We want every one of our students to find a summer program or class to inspire and expand their options.

Equally important, we communicate with parents. Not every parent knows just how important summer programs are for their child's success and how summer learning loss can hamper progress in school. We talk with parents about summer learning and share a list of summer programs. We especially look for those that introduce kids to science, technology, and engineering. While the fees for some programs may seem out of range, we let families know that there are scholarships and financial aid available for those in need. The National Summer Learning Association has an interesting infographic about summer learning. You can download it and share with the families of the youth in your after-school programs here. Find out if there is a list of summer programs in your community for your kids. Here in Oakland, the American Association of University Women sponsors an annual fair where families can learn about summer programs available in their community. If you can't find resources like these, partner with other after-school providers and create your own.

We've learned that it's not enough to just share information about summer programs. You may need to help kids and families with filling out applications. We devote time in our after-school programs to reading and completing applications.

I enjoyed a bowl of Total this morning while my dog, Buddy, looked on hoping for a treat or spill. I like Total because it provides 100% of the daily recommended vitamins. Wouldn't it be great if there was a magic potion that could provide 100% of what our youth need to be successful in school and in life? While there is no fortified cereal to just that, we can do something to keep the youth in our after-school programs safe and inspired 365 days—encourage their participation in summer programs.

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Linda Kekelis

Executive Director
Techbridge
Oakland, CA

blogger-2012

Linda Kekelis is Executive Director of Techbridge, a program that inspires girls in science, technology, and engineering.  With over 20 years’ experience designing and leading girls’ programs, Linda participates in advisory boards, collaborates with girl-serving organizations, and works with professional groups and corporate partners to promote females’ participation in science, technology, and engineering.  She conducts research, participates in national conferences, and writes, translating research into practical applications for educators, professionals, and parents. She has a doctorate in special education from the University of California, Berkeley.

Website: www.techbridgegirls.org

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