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DOWNEY - The Board of Directors of the Downey Unified School District held a 3-hour study session Tuesday to answer the question, "What can we do to make summer learning fun and productive for our children?"
A well-ordered exercise in brainstorming, the session elicited ideas and reasoned thinking from the district's brain trust-board members, the superintendent and assistant superintendents, department heads and directors, specialists-as well as the leadership of the YMCA and ASPIRE.
An alternative name for the refreshing session was 'governance conversation' as the discussions swirled around the five functions of the school board-policy direction, structure-setting, providing support to the superintendent and staff, accountability measures, and community leadership/advocacy.
The thrust of the mental exercise could be gleaned from the opening paragraph of a pamphlet - "Summer Matters: Making Summer Matter for Every Child, Because Learning Happens Year-Round" - published by the California nonprofit, The Partnership for Children & Youth, which "supports communities, schools and government agencies to work together as unified systems to ensure all children have the learning, health and social supports they need to succeed in school and life":
"A child's need for meaningful learning and enrichment does not end in June when the school doors close for summer vacation. All children need to be engaged and actively learning during the summer months in order to stay on track when they return to school in the fall. They also need to remain physically active and eat a balanced diet during the summer months. Without ongoing summer opportunities to reinforce and learn skills, children-especially children in low-income communities-fall behind dramatically in many areas of academic achievement and risk negative health impacts from too much sedentary time indoors and poor nutrition."
Furthermore, the article cites research showing that low-income children are "nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading (speaking of one area only) by the end of the fifth grade due to summer learning loss." It's not hard to imagine that the cumulative effects of such gaps invariably result in the less likelihood of low-income youth to graduate from high school or enter college.
Conducted by Luan Rivera of the California School Boards Association and Partnership for Children & Youth's Kate Brackenridge, the assembly was split into three groups as they were instructed to come up with ideas that could be lumped together under the headings, "Strengths," "Challenges," and "Opportunities," as they apply to the district's operations, of course. A cross-fertilization of ideas was achieved, too, as the members of the three groups exchanged places, and thus perspectives.
Resources-funding, sites, existing summer programs-were, of course, covered, as well as the identification of priorities for action based on an examination of student needs, district priorities (staff training, etc.), and feasibility-and their alignment with Common Core objectives, Character Counts principles, and therefore 21st Century sensibilities.
As Luan and Brackenridge gushed, "This is a fine group, possessed of so many strong programs already, and keen insight. And we observed one very noticeable virtue--none of you were late to the session, and we didn't lose any time as we went out for break and back. The next time we meet should be even more fun."
Published: Nov. 21, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 32