30 June 2011
Sure, summer vacation for middle and high schoolers holds the possibility of fun and more fun. For some work is the agenda. True, mid-June into August offers a variety of possibilities. At the top of the list might be experiential learning, and, yes, reading. But for most American children there is a disconnect between what they learned this past year, and what they will learn over the summer months.
When I attended public school in the 1950s and 60s, summer vacations were stacked with overnight camp in upper state New York, first job as a camp counselor, second job as a waitress in a diner (yes, the one used in “Diner” and filmed in my hometown, Baltimore), trips to the Mid-Atlantic beaches, and recreation of the indoor and outdoor kind.
Our school years had been jammed with serious knowledge building. Most of us looked to summers as a time for leisurely reading–lots of it. We frequented the public library as part of our weekly activities. And it did not hurt that I come from a family of readers.
Recently, I learned about our school district’s addition to the middle and high school curriculum that gives their summer vacation a different flavor. A continuum has been created. The “powers that be” have incorporated another thread on the spool of our youngsters educational experience. And so I was happy to order books for my grandchildren to meet their summer reading requirements. My grandson is about to enter the halls of high school (gulp–that’s a loud sound that reverberates my astonishment at his next milestone), and my granddaughter will continue at the middle school as an seventh grader.
It’s not the first year for these requirements. But it seems that they have added more analysis, more thread to the spool. It’s simply grand that our school district is responding to concerns about the gap between the end of one school year, summer, and the next school year. I applaud its initiative.
I label myself an educator, and I believe deeply in lifelong learning. As important I am among many who are strong proponents that learning should not stop during the summer months. Sure, we know that countries with the highest achievers in math and science attend school year round. But that subject has its pro’s and con’s with little to support academic gain. Besides, it’s not going to happen any time soon in this country (there are a few American schools where year round schedules have been instituted).
While it’s true that each of us learn in different ways, one sure thing is: reading is a necessity. Some of us are voracious readers and some are slow pokes. But the essential component is comprehension (and, of course, enjoyment). So some kids have to be enticed, and our school district’s summer reading lists are meant to do just that. How can a parent be irate to have their child or children required to read a few books in two and a half months? Shouldn’t they be doing that anyway? Haven’t local libraries (forever) been luring children (via parents) to join their summer reading groups?
It’s fascinating to check out the titles and genres of the books selected. The list includes stuff that tweens and teens are devouring. Teen lit is an evergreen phenomenon with experimentation in genres and subjects such as: aliens, dystopia, elimination games, fantasy, graphic novels, historical fiction, science fiction, utopias, and vampires. These books are becoming contemporary classics, and they also are developing a reputation for good solid “storytelling.”
As adults know, children’s books aren’t just for youngsters. Children’s lit can be an adult sweetener too. Mostly, it can keep parents and grandparents involved and privy to what their children are enjoying and exploring. When my grandson was five, I started reading Harry Potter to him. I became as mesmerized as he was. As he grew, the storyline evolved (as each volume was added to the series’ seven). Then we shared reading each new edition out loud to each other. I know that he has reread that series at least three times.
So it seems that our school district has created a nice balance for our middle and high schoolers. Those students in accelerated high school programs have extra assignments. But when all students return from summer vacation, they will share a common experience. Now that’s a good start for the school year.
Yes, it’s the end of June and school may be out, but that does not mean learning should stop. And what could be better than our school district’s philosophy about the required summer assignments: to create generations of readers, which I hope translates into generations of lifelong learners.
There is a wealth of teen lit available as well as the tried-and-true classics these age groups can explore. And there are Websites that make it easy to find books for boys and girls (www.guysread.com and www.readergirlz.com). Also check out book lists on the American Library Association (ALA) Website (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/notalists/ncb/index.cfm and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) for lists of books (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/booklistsbook.cfm).
I strongly believe that learning is not inhaling and holding that information inside for regurgitation. It can be accomplished, for example, by stretching minds, creating problem solvers, ramping up enthusiasm, building confidence, insuring comprehension, and valuing knowledge.
For sure, schools that invest students’ time in a summer reading program point the compass in the right direction.