Monday June 24, 2013

Summer vacation is an antiquated tradition that hinders the education of American students at a time when educational demands in a global economy are increasing. Inertia, nostalgia, union contracts and other hindrances will prevent this vestige of an agrarian age when the kids had to help plant and harvest the crops from disappearing, which means that imaginative solutions must be found to keep the educational process going through the summer months. Happily, solutions are being found and implemented in Pittsfield.

This summer, Pittsfield Promise, the coalition that among its actions launched a literacy initiative last summer, will combine with the city's three Title I schools -- Conte Community, Crosby Elementary and Morningside Community -- to provide free summer programs that expand on the school's past summer offerings. The four-week program will offer traditional academics as well as art and music through partnerships with IS183 Art School of the Berkshires and Kids4Harmony. Days and hours will be expanded from past summers, slots for students increased and transportation provided.

The $28,000 Berkshire United Way is contributing to the summer learning program is the first funding the organization has provided to Pittsfield's public schools. The Greylock Federal Credit Union and the Pittsfield Education Enrichment Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation are also pitching in. The Berkshire Museum, which hosted a celebration of National Summer Learning Day last Friday, is providing programs and activities for school breaks and vacations, and ideally the playgrounds in summer, through another community coalition, Partners in Out-of-School Time (POST).

While it's bad enough that students miss out on education through the summer, researchers are finding that the "summer slide" can cause students to lose two months or more of grade-level learning from inactivity, which means time to restore these losses must be spent in the fall. That results in time wasted re-learning what was learned in the spring. Programs like the one starting in July in Pittsfield are an antidote, and ideally it will be expanded in the summers ahead. Other Berkshire communities should begin similar efforts in their schools to enable their students to avoid a summer slide.