Summer Programs Keep Kids' Learning On Track, But Options Vary

Jul 7, 2015

Classes are over for the school year, but for many kids, learning is still going on. Over 80 percent of Vermont’s schools say they offer some kind of program during vacation. But quality varies widely and in some communities, there is no summer school.

The warmer months can be a time when children lose ground in math and science — unless they find an enjoyable way to use their minds. That’s why more and more schools are trying to keep their doors open even after traditional classes end.

In Sharon, for example, a summer day starts with a dance party and breakfast muffins. Then some kids head with books to a reading nook. Still others make a beeline for plastic construction toys called K’NEX.

Connor Bowen is 8, and he loves this activity.

“They have like motors and stuff that you can build into something. Then you've got to build the stuff over the motor. Then you can click it on and see what it does,” he explains.

He wants to build a little crane that really goes up and down. Figuring out how to do that will require some problem solving skills. That means when school starts in the fall, he won’t have lost ground in math and science.   

Studies show that during the vacation months, kids forget a lot that they learned during the school year. That’s why the Orange Windsor Supervisory Union operates One Planet, a summer enrichment program for elementary students in Sharon, Tunbridge and Royalton. Thanks to a variety of funding sources, the weekly fee is $100 — less than many child care centers. Middle-schoolers can become counselors-in-training who learn communication and team-building skills. Fourteen-year old counselor Bailey Bean remembers how much she loved making machines in Sharon when she was younger.

"I think more and more school systems are recognizing that summer is a big void for a lot of families." - Carrie McDonnell, One Planet director

“I would use that in school afterwards,” she says.

The One Planet Program also offers after-school sessions during the academic year for about $7 a day per student; financial aid is available. Director Carrie McDonnell says summer is a great time for educational activities that don't fit into school year, such as the machine project, and field trips.

Students build simple machines using a complicated construction set at One Planet, a summer school in Sharon.
Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR

“I think more and more school systems are recognizing that summer is a big void for a lot of families. I don’t think we are alone in doing this, but I think there’s still a big need that’s not being met,” says McDonnell.

Vermont Afterschool, a non-profit advocacy group, considers One Planet one of the best expanded learning programs in the state. Director Holly Morehouse says after-school and summer programs are unevenly distributed throughout the state, and some are much better than others at keeping young minds engaged.

“It depends on where you live, what’s available in your community and it depends on how much money your family has to spend,” Morehouse says, referring to a study of summer options throughout Vermont.

Data from Vermont Afterschool show that on average, a Vermont family spends about $311 per week for summer learning programs. Thirty-three percent of Vermont families say they would enroll their kids in summer school if they could find a good one that they can afford. And if they can’t, educators say too many kids are spending too much vacation time watching TV or playing video games. And that could spell trouble for them when school re-opens, and they have already fallen behind peers who spent their summers more productively.