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Dallas Involved In National Summer Education Research

Kids usually can’t wait for the school year to end. But education research shows some children pay a price over the summer break. They forget so much that by the time they start the next grade, they’re way behind.

This is summer school at DISD’s Bushman Elementary, in southern Dallas. More than 400 students attend, most to make up for bad grades.

Student: People need food, clothes, and other goods. Community has stores and markets that sell goods.

But there’s more going on in this social studies class than students reading out loud about Communities, which is today’s topic. Third graders here also take art.

Visual Arts Instructor Ron Oliver works to combine the two: art and the social studies core.

Oliver: The kids that never get it? Like the 30 percent that always struggle on testing? They thrive in this kind of atmosphere. Because as they learn, sometimes they just learn differently. Like I would. And, we give them a different twist on how to learn it.

So Oliver says in addition to reading about communities and markets, students draw community scenes.

Oliver: And they love to be able to express themselves in picture form. I think that’s the important thing.

Giobanny: When I was drawing, I was expressing my feelings, and showing what was happening.

Karen: You don’t use any words, you only use the pictures and you use it to tell the people the pictures telling the words for you, you don’t need words.

Fifteen-year elementary teacher Gloria Pegram says art reinforces memory.

Pegram: When they’re able to draw and express themselves in a creative manner, with core topics like this, even with math, we try to be creative with it, It helps their retention, they remember. It’s “oh yes, I remember this because, and they’ll go into what we were doing, hands-on, whatever activity we were doing, to help them understand it better, and to retain it.

Pegram says students who don’t receive some kind of summer enrichment often need to re-learn lessons when they return in the fall. That’s especially true of low income students who may not go on vacation to interesting places, attend summer camp, or live near libraries.

Ed Pauley: And for poor kids the loss can be as much as three months of school learning that just disappears over the course of the summer.

Ed Pauley is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Wallace Foundation.

Pauley: That’s a very significant part of the achievement gap that separates kids from low- income communities from kids from more affluent communities.

The non-profit Wallace Foundation has invested $50 million to research summer programs that attack the summer loss or learning gap. Over the next few years, it will look at a variety of programs to see which works best, including the arts program here.

Pauley: We need kids to master reading and math. Art gets them excited about being there everyday. And the arts use reading and math. 207 Arts are a great way to tie together learning experiences.

That’s why Gloria Pegram says she’ll incorporate more creative elements into her classes this fall.

Pegram: They’re still developing and they need more physical movement and activity so they can learn and still have fun. I don’t think anything’s wrong with learning and having fun at the same time. That’s my philosophy.

The Wallace Foundation research is still several years away from drawing its final conclusion.

Press announcement about Wallace and Six Cities:

"How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning":

Other links about the “summer loss” or “summer gap”:

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.