As Pandemic Deficits Persist Should Kids Hit Summer School Instead of Summer Camp?

Our columnist notes that with many students still lagging in reading and math scores after the pandemic, it might be wiser to send the kids to summer school rather than summer camp this year. She notes that there are resources available to help parents navigate the difficult terrain that the carefree days of summer may carry an academic component.

| 11 Apr 2024 | 11:57

“Zoom school.” The sound of it still sends chills up the spine of some parents and, more unfortunately, some students are still feeling the effects of this pandemic detour.

“Overall in math, a subject where learning loss has been greatest, students have made up about a third of what they lost. In reading, they have made up a quarter, according to the new analysis of standardized test score data led by researchers at Stanford and Harvard,” wrote reporters, Claire Cain Miller, Sarah Mervosh and Francesca Paris in an in depth analysis published in the New York Times in January.

The Education Recovery Scorecard reported that students lost half a year in math and three months’ worth of reading proficiency from 2019 to 2022. In some schools, students fell behind by over a year and a half in math.

Do you think your child might be one of them?

If so, is it a better use of his/her summer vacation to put them in a summer school class to up their math or reading skills rather than sign them up for a full day of traditional camp activities?

The U.S. Department of Education’s COVID-19 Handbook identifies summer learning programs as valuable resources for addressing lost instruction and a key component for not just academic healing but social and emotional healing as well.

According to the Harvard School of Education, there’s research that shows students will require ongoing help outside regular school time to regain what they lost during the pandemic. One of the study’s key findings is that “Within school districts, test scores dropped by similar amounts for all groups. Students of color, white students, and students from both higher and lower-income families, all fared about the same.”

The report stresses though that piling on school work in the summer months is not the answer because it can affect the child’s mental health. It suggests finding community “organizations that are already providing fun and engaging activities with an academic component.”

An example of this can be found on The Summer Rising program is free and available to all NYC students in grades K-8, pending seat availability. It gives children access to both academic and enrichment programming over the course of the day, including field trips, arts activities, and outdoor recreation. Breakfast, lunch, and snack is served.

[Unfortunately, with the city’s budget cuts, it has been cut from five days a week to only four, which means parents are going to have scramble to find alternatives for kids on Fridays.] also lists free summer programs, many of which have an academic component. Now, how to convince your child that the season associated with carefree fun is going to involve more schoolwork.

Experts say it’s all in the words you choose. For a long time, summer school was viewed as a punishment for a class that was failed during the school year that had to be retaken in the off-season.

First, it needs to be stressed that failure has no place in the decision for summer learning. Then, in the vein of “change your language, change a mind,” a parent might present the idea as a means to getting ahead or being more prepared for when the new school year begins.

Another way to bring academic achievement into your summer plans especially if your child doesn’t want to deviate from their traditional camp plans that perhaps all their friends are participating in, is to add summer tutoring into the mix and NYC has plenty of choices.

In fairness, some educators warn that summer academics don’t work the “magic” that everyone hopes they will in closing all the learning gaps brought on by the pandemic. Some even point to research that says the boost in scores isn’t all that impressive. But even they admit that a small elevation is better than none.

There’s a lot of talk these days about work/life balance. This summer, if your child warrants academic intervention, perhaps the emphasis should be on learning/fun balance.

It’s time children understood that they can go hand in hand.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, the latest is “The Last Single Woman in New York City.”