Back in the day, the mere mention of the words “summer school” was enough to send chills down the spine of any student. After all, who wanted to spend their summer days in a hot, classroom learning, when friends were swimming or at the beach having fun? Those days are long gone, however. Today, summer school is more like an education camp for students. Many summer school programs, especially for elementary students, are designed to be fun as well as educational, with plenty of STEM and enrichment activities built into the program. Engagement within and outside the classroom—whether an in-person or virtual one—is a priority for summer learning and is incorporated through virtual field trips to museums, zoos, and other cultural attractions to create fun, memorable experiences.

But beyond fun, summer school programs are critically important toward mitigating learning loss, commonly known as “summer slide” or “brain drain.”

In fact,  according to the Brookings Institution, “on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning.” Additionally, Johns Hopkins University researchers estimate that as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap can be traced to summer learning loss in elementary school. And this is during a typical summer.

The COVID-19 Slide

The COVID-19 pandemic found many schools not sufficiently prepared for a crisis such as pandemic; most schools were forced to scramble, hastily arranging virtual schooling during which students received instruction that did not fully mirror the education they would have received in person.  By the time school—and life—returns to some semblance of normalcy, most students across the country will have endured either several months of no in-person schooling, a modified or hybrid version of school, or some combination of both. This has resulted in a phenomenon known as the “COVID-19 slide.” And it could have serious consequences for many students.

According to NWEA research, “preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return [to school] with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”

The Benefits of Summer Learning

Based on research published by the Rand Corporation in 2011, it has been shown that students can benefit in several ways from summer learning programs by:

  1. Mastering material that they did not learn during the previous school year
  2. Reversing summer learning loss
  3. Achieving learning gains

The Rand research also shows that “voluntary summer programs, mandatory summer programs, and at-home reading programs can all have positive effects on student achievement. It appears that increased productive learning time on academic tasks leads to achievement gains (or the mitigation of loss) for students.”

Summer learning—especially for younger children—presents a viable, proven, and engaging way to mitigate summer slide or any other lengthy learning gap for students.

Attributes of a Good Summer School Program for Elementary Students

If the summer school program itself isn’t of high quality, the potential benefits of mitigating learning loss and/or achieving learning gains may not be realized. Simply showing up to summer school does not guarantee either of those desired outcomes; the program needs to be strong, and the student needs to be engaged. So, what makes a good summer school program?

  1. It should be fun. Rather than creating a formal school-type setting, summer learning programs should have a camp-like feel, with casual yet effective instruction and engaging activities.
  2. These activities (as circumstances allow) should include plenty of outdoor time, field trips, group learning and teamwork, and exploration.
  3. High-quality instruction from qualified teachers.
  4. A diverse class curriculum. Reading and math instruction and intervention are critical, but just as important are social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and STEM activities.

Why Is STEM Important?

Nearly every school implements some type of STEM-related activities into its daily schedule. Why? Look at some of these STEM statistics from iD Tech:

  1. STEM jobs are projected to grow by 13% by 2027.
  2. Employment in STEM positions has grown 79% since 1990.
  3. The median annual wage for STEM jobs is over $86,000—more than double the wage of non-STEM positions.

Instilling and then increasing students’ interest in STEM fields at an early age is critical to meet this growing demand. Fortunately, opportunity exists for students today to gain valuable STEM experience early in their schooling.

The benefits of STEM education in summer school programs are many—for short-term purposes, they’re hands-on, educational, engaging, and fun for elementary school kids; looking longer-term, these classes and activities are the foundation upon which STEM interest and potential STEM careers can be built.

How Catapult Learning’s Summer Journey Program Can Help

Our turnkey Summer Journey program accommodates the academic, social, and emotional needs of your students and their families. Summer Journey offers robust educational opportunities and engaging activities designed to prepare students for success in the fall and beyond. With a comprehensive suite of summer solutions, programs can be tailored to the unique needs of your schools and include in-person, virtual, and hybrid options that accommodate everyone’s access to technology. Programs incorporate literacy and math intervention, STEM and robotics enrichment courses, social-emotional learning, and family support.

Additionally, STEM or Robotics camps can be run as stand-alone offerings or in tandem with any district-run summer program. Best of all, Catapult provides all the materials and training needed to run an engaging program using either your teachers or ours. We’re here to help you create the perfect summer learning experience for your students. Learn more about Catapult’s Summer Journey today by downloading our brochure.