Ben Davis is a School Reform Blogging Fellow.

Rise and shine Minnesotans! For many of the roughly 20 percent of Americans who spend their day in a school, this week marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of another school year. In my last post I dissected research on summer learning from the National Association of, well, Summer Learning. Today I’ll talk about summer learning in a more personal context: my experiences coaching youth soccer and volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Coaching – by far my favorite part of summer – gives me the opportunity to watch kids evolve into stronger, more polite sportsmen, from the first-grade goalie who high-fives the teammate who scored the goal on her to the fourth-grader who, by season-end, communicates with teammates effectively. But I also see that when it came to education, these kids are completely checked out. Before games and during halftime, I talked with them about their summer activities. I heard about arguments with siblings, new types of video games and bike rides with friends. But I almost never heard about reading, math, writing … you get the idea. I’d then dig deeper, asking my players: “What are you reading this summer?” Most responded: “Nothing.”

The summer slide is also big in my hometown of Sartell, Minn. My “little brother,” who I mentored as part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, spent his summer like a lot of other kids his age: running around with friends and going to the pool, without much concern or preparation for the academic year that lay ahead of him. His experience – largely rooted in video games unsuitable for his age – wasn’t all that different than my soccer players.

Sports and recreation are integral, beneficial parts to any kid’s summer, but I’m not sure we’d say the same about structured academic activities. Often, we stigmatize summer school because of its remedial connotations or sanction summer as a time for “kids to just be kids.” But letting kids just be kids shouldn’t mean letting them stop learning. Remember, our state has a mounting achievement gap and more kids need to leave high school college-ready.

As a coach and student, I see firsthand how education is key to preparing individuals to live and work in our state (let’s keep it thriving, eh?). From my “little brother” to the kids on my soccer team to all other Minnesota students, kids need every advantage he or she can get. And it doesn’t start with hibernating.

What ideas do you have to foster more summer learning in Minnesota communities?

Ben Davis is a MinnCAN School Reform Blogging Fellow.


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