It’s hard to believe that almost two months have passed since the school year ended. However, if you are a public school educator or someone else who cares for children, summer causes as much anxiety as excitement. We all need a break from a routine sometimes, but extended breaks from education can cause unnecessary mental anguish for educators. 

Whether you choose to believe it or not, educators are constantly concerned about the well-being of the children in our care—even when they are away from us. The conclusion of a school year does not mean the expiration of our love and support. We want to see our scholars thrive academically without exceptions, and despite the rest it promises, summertime makes us more concerned about the academic, behavioral and social well-being of the students we serve each day. 

You may have heard of summer learning loss, summer setback, or summer brain drain. These are legitimate challenges for educators, parents and other stakeholders. Research published in the American Educational Research Journal estimates that “the average student lost 17 to 34 percent of the prior year’s learning gains during summer break.” 

This is a disconcerting percentage considering the herculean efforts made to help students achieve academic growth throughout the school year. 

Poverty makes the effects of the summer learning loss worse. Students in poverty often do not have the same access to quality experiences others may have during the summer. They don’t always travel. They don’t benefit from exposure to culture and unfamiliar places. 

To make matters worse, far too many students are forced to share time in close proximity to those who would do them harm when they are away from school. According to data from The Bridge Children’s Advocacy Center in Amarillo, “the most common age for cases [of abuse] is between 4 and 6 years of age.” When children are away for summer break, the mandatory reporters entrusted to provide education and even protection to students are unable to file the requisite reports on behalf of those we serve. 

The digital divide is another prevalent issue. Until recently, it affected at least 9 million Texans—including public school-aged children. Texas House Bill 5, signed into law following the second legislative special session of 2021, created the Broadband Development Office (BDO), operated by the Comptroller’s Office. According to its website, this program “awards grants, low-interest loans, and other financial incentives to internet service providers who expand access to broadband service in underserved areas.” These are important changes, and the Amarillo City Council’s approved use of American Rescue Plan funds to expand broadband access is just as important. But this remains a long-term solution to a problem students are facing this summer. 

All of this is to remind readers that our students benefit from some form of education during the summer months. Parents have many options, ranging from summer academy at your child’s school, Amarillo College Kids’ College, or the community programs offered by other reputable nonprofit and civic organizations. 

As an educator, I would be remiss if I neglected to mention the significance of summer literacy. One of the ways to close learning deficits is to provide equitable access to books year-round. According to an influential report, “the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print” (America’s Child Care Crisis: A Crime Prevention Tragedy). When students attend summer school or any of the various reading and learning programs during the summer, the probability of summer learning loss precipitously decreases. 

Children who have access to a school community have access to essential resources. During the school year, children who attend our public schools have access to at least two hot meals a day, health services, social and emotional learning, and high-quality instruction from teachers devoted to students’ welfare and growth. 

So as you drive past our schools this summer, take note of parking lots and the flashing school-zone lights. Despite what many presume, our schools remain open for business year-round. Learning is a lifelong process, and the support of parents and other stakeholders helps ensure our students’ learning never takes a summer break. 

Author

  • Patrick Miller is President of the Amarillo Branch NAACP and assistant principal at Eastridge Elementary. In 2021, he completed a 6-year term on the Amarillo College Board of Regents, to which he was elected at the age of 25. He has earned Master’s degrees in both teaching and educational leadership from WTAMU and has served in a variety of leadership roles within the Amarillo Independent School District.