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Keeping Kids Learning And Not Going Down The ‘Summer Slide’

Research shows that the summer break takes a toll on learning. Either kids aren’t doing much of it at home or they don’t have access to education programs or activities. In the first of two stories, we look at the “summer slide” and how Dallas is tackling it.

Also, on Monday’s second hour of Think, host Krys Boyd spoke with a couple of education experts about this issue. You can listen to the podcast here.


Eighth-grader Arnell Davis says a lot of kids face the same predicament he used to during the summer.

“They don’t have anything to do,” said Arnell. “They’re probably home alone because their mom or parents have to go to work.”

Two years ago, that changed when the 14-year-old got involved with the arts education group Big Thought. Now, he goes to after school workshops and attends an academic enrichment summer camp called Thriving Minds.

Experts say summer programs like these are crucial. That’s because when students start school in the fall, they’re already one month behind from where they left off in the spring, according to research by The Wallace Foundation.

“But the kicker is that not all students experience the same level of loss,” said Lucas Held, director of communications at the Wallace Foundation. “Summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income students and that’s why it’s a special concern.”

The Wallace Foundation is studying the effects of the summer months on children.

“The evidence suggest that that loss appears to be cumulative over time and what that means is that summer learning loss contributes substantially to the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers,” Held said.

This summer, Dallas joined several other cities around the country in a pilot program aimed at closing that gap by offering kids more things to do. Called the Dallas City of Learning, it’s modeled after a similar effort in Chicago and involves more than 50 organizations, including city agencies, museums, libraries and neighborhood groups.

“When we saw what Chicago was doing, we were already asking the question, ‘How could we build a system — a coordinated system — that many, many children could engage in?’” said Gigi Antoni, Big Thought’s president and CEO.

She said developing an online database was key. On it, kids and parents can create an account and search for activities in their part of town. For kids who don’t have Internet access, community groups will help sign them up. And kids can also earn digital badges, which show what skills they’ve learned.

“So we will learn a great deal this summer about what strategies work best to break down access barriers for kids, what sorts of things kids are interested in and where in the community we need to put in more experiences for kids.”

On Sunday, kids were invited to a Turn Up! — kind of like what adults call meet-ups — at the opening of the Continental Avenue Pedestrian Bridge. It included a mural project, puppet-making and lessons on wind and nature. More Turn Ups! are planned this summer.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.