Summer ChutesPosted by AVID Center on 5/21/2019
By Sacha Bennett and Eric Stanley
A lively display board at the attendance office reception window counts down the days until summer vacation. Weary from the demands of the school year, staff and faculty freely express how much they’re looking forward to summer break in anticipation of rest and spending time with friends and family. Some students excitedly share about the camps they will attend and travel they will get to experience during their “time off.” But what effect does this cheerful countdown have on students for whom summer holds uncertainty, loss of structure and support, and other erosive conditions? And what about our emerging bilingual students? After working diligently during the school year to learn and practice academic English and grapple with content standards, they too often find themselves deprived of opportunities to engage in academic discourse for two months each summer.
There is a phenomenon known by many different names (e.g., summer slide, summer slump, summer loss, summer brain drain), but we think of it in terms of summer chutes. Unfortunately, a summer chute is not referring to kids sliding into a cool pool to stave off the heat or zooming down a slide with the wind in their hair at a playground in the park. It is a reference to the children’s game Chutes and Ladders, in which players randomly gain advantage from a ladder or lose ground due to encountering a chute, falling further behind. The difference is that summer chutes are not random, and they have devastating implications for our students identified as English language learners each year when the two-month summer break from school causes our students to slide backward in their language development and academic growth.
Last year, a Brookings Institute article written by David M. Quinn and Morgan Polikoff shared discouraging statistics about the academic declension of students caused by their time away from school during the summer months. Of greatest concern for our identified ELLs, findings report that their achievement scores declined by a month or more worth of school-year learning during summer vacation. Income-based reading gaps grew significantly as well. The article highlighted something known as the “faucet theory” to explain why students impacted by poverty experience summer loss more than their peers from higher-income families. During the summer, the “resource faucet” continues to flow for students with more resources to access learning opportunities that foster continued growth and development. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which includes many of our language minority students, do not have access to the continuous flow of those same resources. This is just one more example of how opportunity gaps directly impact achievement gaps for our students.
Districts can address the “summer chute” for their identified English language learners by providing academic camps or summer bridge experiences that allow students to engage in collaborative inquiry and community building designed to support academic language and literacy development. In addition, it would be greatly beneficial to establish a summer reading program that encourages independent and shared reading with families in English or in their heritage language. Family workshops and providing families with recommendations for educational websites and apps that will bolster academic and language skills might also lead to more students being engaged in continued learning during the summer break.
For some, summer offers more ladders for the continuance of intellectual and social-emotional growth such as safe free time, exploration, and extended learning. Yet for many of our students emerging in their English proficiency, it can be a season of chutes like regression, isolation, and boredom. We need to work to replace summer chutes with the ladders our scholars deserve so they too can participate at the highest levels.
AVID Excel Summer Bridge is an opportunity to address summer chutes for our AVID Excel scholars. It is a two-week, 4-hour-per-day experience that includes opportunities for community building, leadership development, English language and literacy support, and academic skill building. AVID Excel districts can check out our new Summer Bridge resources here. If you would like more information about AVID Excel, please contact us at [email protected].
Sacha Bennett is a Program Specialist on the Teaching and Learning Team and serves as the lead for AVID Excel, AVID’s middle-school elective for long-term English language learners. She believes all students can achieve academic success if afforded rich opportunities and rigorous learning experiences.
Eric Stanley is a Western Division AVID Program Manager, supporting AVID districts in Washington. He believes the student–teacher relationship has a profound effect on the success and well-being of our youth.