Steering local kids away from a threatening summer slide

Posted 6/30/21

K-12 students of South Washington County Schools (SWCS) are on summer break. While some are road tripping or exploring regional parks, others are watching Disney+ hits or experiencing the “summer …

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Steering local kids away from a threatening summer slide


K-12 students of South Washington County Schools (SWCS) are on summer break. While some are road tripping or exploring regional parks, others are watching Disney+ hits or experiencing the “summer slide.” Unfortunately, this term does not concern a tarp that one lathers with dish soap and sprays with a hose for a backyard activity. It is rather “the phenomenon where students lose academic skills and physical fitness,” according to The Minnesota Department of Education.

The summer slide does not seem as amusing as a “slip n’ slide.” Students, on average, can lose 2 months of literacy and 2.6 months of mathematic skills following an ordinary school year. However, education appeared different over the last ten months due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. For one, SWCS encountered five distinct learning model shifts. One of these was full-time remote learning for grades K through 12.

The “summer slide” was an issue that demanded the attention of districts and families after traditional school seasons. However, after the unusual 2020-2021 school year, does the “summer slide” pose a more serious threat? The Journal investigated this matter through conversations with SWCS and Cottage Grove Mathnasium.

Pears and apples. They are similar, yet opposing. These fruits’ relationship was compared to that of 2021’s summer slide and historic summer slides by Sandra Saucedo-Falagan. She is the temporary Summer School District Coordinator and permanent Achievement and Integration Department Coordinator for SWCS. A “traditional” summer slide comes after a school year in which a group of students catch onto academic skills quicker than their peers. Contrastingly, during the last ten months, all students were “in the same bucket.” All of that considered, Saucedo-Falagan judged that children who have proved vulnerable to forgetting knowledge may lose more this summer. “So, I do think it’s a threat. I think that those students who were at higher risk before, for a summer slide, are definitely at more risk now,” she declared.

As a result of this prediction, Mathnasium is seeing an especial need to educate children right now. Mathnasium is a franchise that is situated in 1,000+ communities in the United States and Canada. One of these locations was established in Cottage Grove by Center Director, Pauline Ho. Ho oversees the tutoring of children from grades 1 to 12 in mathematics. She would agree that there is a greater need to engage kids in summer learning. In an interview with The Journal, she stated, “I see a lot of demand [for summer learning]. I see a lot of kids that didn’t get enough of the content compared to a regular school year…Distance learning was very challenging. It only worked for a very small…number of students. The majority of them, I would say more than 80% having trouble distance learning. Even the good students, the straight-A students before, [are] now struggling. Not only academically, but there also are a percentage of kids struggling mentally.”

The “demand” that Ho mentioned can be noticed in her enrollment rates. “We steady see increasing enrollment through our school year,” Ho cited. “It’s not super high…but, steady, slowly increasing…[The increasing] started more toward the end of the school year, like in May…of this year…2021.”

Although the demand for tutoring is higher, Mathnasium in Cottage Grove does not intend to intensify their curriculum. “The curriculum is always the same. We cater based on what a student needs…It’s very individualized…It depends on what a student needs,” Ho spelled out.

SWCS will be hosting two summer schooling programs as Mathnasium proceeds to tutor. To begin with, The Mix will operate between four to six hours per day, four days per week, and for four weeks in July. It is free-of-charge and will be catered to students who are currently in grades K-4. Saucedo-Falagan gave The Journal a sneak peek into The Mix. “The really cool thing about [The Mix]…is the curriculum is really based on STEM topics…” she revealed.

The program’s participants will dive into advanced STEM curriculum as well as their age group’s standards for core subjects. For example, one who is entering first grade will revisit first grade math and literacy. Additionally, they will accumulate second-grade-level STEM knowledge.

All the while, 5th, 6th, and 7th graders in need of extra support will attend YOUth Force. “…The nice, cool thing about the YOUth Force is that it’s more of a camp atmosphere. It’s more thematic, so they’re not necessarily hitting a certain [subject],” illustrated Saucedo-Falagan.

YOUth Force has been designed to “engage students more,” in Saucedo-Falagan’s words. The involved pre-teens will choose how to spend their time at the program. For instance, those with an interest in the arts could partake in artistic activities. Young and passionate scientists could participate in STEM enrichments. Even children enjoy being in nature could join in on outdoor games.”We know that when students are engaged, then they’re primed to learn academically better,” justified the coordinator.

In just a couple days, The Mix and YOUth Force will launch. Neither program will be about “catching students up.” Pepe Barton, the Director of Communications and Community Relations in SWCS, clarified the true purpose of SoWash- Co Summer: “…many students were invited directly by the schools with a focus on student social and emotional learning while also further developing math and reading skills.”

“A lot” of families contacted Saucedo-Falagan, requesting that she permit their children to be a part of SoWashCo Summer. They felt that their children would benefit from The Mix or YOUth Force. However, the building of these programs’ classes was an “invitation-only process.” Saucedo-Falagan reasoned, “Our numbers were really based on a couple of things. It’s not only just need, but it’s also on capacity on teachers…If we don’t have enough teachers, then we can’t have enough sections for the amount of students that we need. So, each class has about 15 students in it…no more than 18 students…”

“I wish that we could have provided something for all kids, but we just really couldn’t with capacity,” Saucedo-Falagan finished.

Chances are, there are families in Cottage Grove who were rejected from entering SoWashCo Summer or are unsure of how to avoid the summer slide. The Journal recorded the summer learning advice from Ho and Saucedo-Falagan. First, Ho advised, “I would recommend that parents strengthen their numerical fluency skills…just do basic addition/subtraction facts, multiplication times tables. There a ton of games that they can do [or] just a simple deck of cards.”

Guardians can seek out academic games and flash cards on Amazon. In addition, it is likely that instructors sent their students home in June with enrichment packets. Ho recommended that families dive into those a “couple” of times per week. On top of zoning in on fluency in math, Ho encouraged parents to tend to the emotional needs of their children. “It has been a difficult year…Maybe take a vacation, take some break-time from learning to recharge, connect together with families and then, a little bit of simple addition/subtraction facts…” Ho stated.

Likewise, Saucedo-Falagan encouraged families to “get out” this summer. She told The Journal that “authentic” education is not all “pen, paper, and pencil.” Instead, it is about “experience.” To The Journal, Saucedo-Falagan elaborated, “So for me, the best thing is hands-on stuff: getting into museums, getting into the river and looking for bugs, and talking about bugs and igniting that fire of learning…”

The Summer School District Coordinator would prompt guardians to explore this question when approaching summer learning: “What skills are going to be transferable?” Phrased in a different way, she would guide guardians to do research-based activities that plant a drive for “continual learning” in students. “And then that is engaging. And then you learn. And then you keep it in your brain,” defended Saucedo-Falagan.

Finally, The Minnesota Department of Education has an online resource for those who are hoping to involve the students that they are close to in summer learning. To access that outlet, one can type, “ slide/index.htm” into any web browser.