It’s time to rethink summer.
At least that’s what educators are now telling parents and students. And academics, it turns out, is just one part of the new plan.
Here’s what’s true about summer, especially in the Kansas City, Mo., public schools: Students slip academically, they eat awful food and they often get in trouble.
But there’s a solution, says Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green. Just keep kids in school.
"Parents can rest assured as they go to work that their child is in a safe haven, that their child is learning and they’re not involved in something that could actually be harmful to them," Green says. "It puts us pretty much in a year round mode."
So the Kansas City district is greatly expanding its summer school program this year.
Last year, the district says, it had summer school in 18 buildings. This summer it will have classes in 25.
More importantly, the district is expanding summer school from 20 elementary schools to 26 schools. It’s going from four weeks to six weeks.
One of those elementary schools is Crispus Attucks on 24th and Prospect
Avenue in east Kansas City.
It’s in low-income neighborhoods like this that students have the hardest time retaining what they learn. But educators know that if you keep kids on track in elementary school, if you keep them excited about learning, it makes success in middle and high school easier.
Jessica Bassett is in her third year as principal at Attucks and some of her kids have already benefited from summer school last year.
Twenty-one percent of those tested last summer in her building showed growth in English and 44 percent showed growth in math.
Not Earth shattering results, but certainly some progress in closing the achievement gap between affluent and poorer students.
"How else are we going to close the gap, the achievement gap? We talk about the achievement gap but these are some of the things that we can put in place to help bridge the gap," she says.
Summer school can reach much farther than reading and math.
"But the children, in some senses, really thrive in summer. Summer can be a different kind of learning experience. You can more experiential kind of learning. It can be a chance to take field trips," says Brent Schondelmeyer with the Local Investment Commission (LINC) who administers the summer school program in a half a dozen Kansas City Public Schools.
LINC is a non-profit that has all sorts of programs for children and families on the Missouri side of the metro.
Schondelmeyer says summer is a time schools can reintroduce art, music and P.E.
Keeping kids occupied in the neighborhood around Attucks is also a benefit to summer school.
Just a block away from the school up and down Montgall Avenue are dozens of boarded up homes. Just the kind of temptation that can get kids into trouble.
"It’s easy to have an ideal mind, to be curious and to get into things," says Bassett. "So by having summer school and having this option for parents, they have a place to send their kids or bring their students so that they can be successful."
And there’s one more thing, says Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green. It's an opportunity to market Kansas City Public Schools to students who may attend private or charter schools during the regular school year.
Right now only 50 percent of the kids in the Kansas City school district actually attend a Kansas City public school.
"If students and their parents have a good experience with us and recognize that we could be a destination of choice, that’s one of my major goals, that’s a bi product of that, I certainly would not be opposed to that happening," says Green.