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Sunday, Jul 22 2012 11:06 PM

Don't let your kid's brains go to mush during summer break

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    Andrae Gonzales

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By ANDRAE GONZALES

Last spring, the Bakersfield City School Board of Education adopted a new vision statement: to be a leader in public education through a collaborative and supportive learning community that ensures all students are inspired to achieve academic excellence and become lifelong learners and productive citizens. We have thousands of talented teachers, principals, administrators and support staff who work tirelessly toward this vision. And we are enlisting more community partners than ever before; engaging parents in a deep and authentic way; and seeking out best practices and models to guide our work.

But one element of our instructional practice undermines our best efforts to close the achievement gap: summer vacation.

On average, a student loses a month of learning from the end of one school year to the beginning of the next, according to a 2011 report, "Making Summer Count," published by the RAND Corp., a non-profit research group.

And it gets worse: a growing number of researchers suggest that summer vacation is a root cause of the achievement gap between poor and affluent students. This is because, put simply, affluent students tend to spend the summer reading, being read to, and participating in summer camps. Poorer students don't necessarily have access to the same summer learning opportunities.

Thankfully, there are a number of efforts under way this summer to ensure summer learning. I'm proud to report that, in these tough economic times, the Bakersfield City School District actually expanded its summer school program, from 1,800 students last year to 3,200 students this summer.

In addition to summer school, the BCSD migrant program offers a number of programs for students over the summer. One program, Summer Outreach for Literacy (SOL), is a home-based program that serves at-risk students. SOL teachers provide individual or small group instruction in English-language arts and math.

Beyond the BCSD, there are a number of opportunities for children throughout the community. The Kern County Library's summer reading program is in full swing, with events throughout the summer. Encouragingly, all of the events are well attended by families throughout the community.

The Children First Campaign, a local nonprofit organization, is joining the effort to fight the summer slide and encouraging parents to take their children to the library. Toward this end, Children First will host a picnic for families of McKinley School at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Lowell Park. After lunch, the group will march down to the Beale Memorial Library for the popular reptile show and an opportunity to obtain a library card.

To be sure, there are a lot of great things happening to help children academically during summer vacation, but more needs to be done.

A few days ago, I walked the neighborhood around McKinley to invite families to the Children First picnic. I met one little girl, about 7 years old, and asked her how many books she had read since school ended. She answered, sotto voce, "None." So I asked her to raise her right hand and repeat after me: "I promise to read every day for 30 minutes." Her eyes widened in shock. Her jaw dropped in disbelief. But I insisted, and she promised.

Let's all raise our right hands and make a promise that we will do whatever we can to ensure opportunities for all children to achieve academic success all year long -- even summer.

Andrae Gonzales was elected to the Bakersfield City School District Board of Education in 2010. He is also the founder of Children First, a Bakersfield-based nonprofit, and CEO of Stewards Inc.

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