School may be out, but learning is still in
Eleven-year-old Neka Lemea summed up what research conducted by national experts has discovered: She said it's not good to watch TV all summer because you'll lose a lot of the information you learned during the school year.
She revealed her wisdom while beading yarn that decorated a mask she was working on during the July 16 session of a weeklong art camp at Our Lady of Mercy High School. In addition to the Mercy camps she's attended -- which also covered broadcasting and instrumental music -- she spends time reading over the summer.
"When you read books ... you can go back to school with more information," she said.
Retaining and boosting comprehension skills are some of the main reasons most area Catholic and public schools have recommended summer reading lists for their students. Several of the area’s diocesan-affiliated Catholic middle and high schools also offer camps for all grade levels to introduce students to different areas of interest while also boosting their knowledge in an informal setting, local educators said.
More than 200 girls signed up for Mercy's array of academic and sports camps, which are taught by Mercy staff, said Suzanne Johnston, president of the Brighton school. The camp program is in its fifth year.
"We knew families are always looking for enriching, learning activities and also realized it's an academically significant boost for young people," she added. "What I like about the camps is that the structure is hidden. It's very relaxed yet very focused."
Camper Austin Gibbons-Brown, 10, also does at-home schoolwork with her grandmother with the help of a workbook called "School Stops for Summer but Learning Never Should."
Austin said she doesn't mind the extra math and writing lessons during the summer because she wants "to get smarter to get into a good college."
Elis Martínez said she also enjoys summer learning, which she takes part in by reading books on the summer reading list provided by Bay Trail Middle School in Penfield. She said she has an added incentive to read during the summer, noting that the town’s public library offers prizes for certain minutes of reading accomplished in a week.
"It's importance to read (during the summer) because most kids like to relax," Elis said. "But if you relax (too much), you lose all your knowledge. I read so I don't lose (information) myself."
Margaret Oberst, who coordinates the libraryat Rochester's Cathedral School at Holy Rosary, said she encourages students to enroll in programs at nearby public libraries.
"Most often students lose ground between the summer months unless stimulated to read," she noted. "We utilize an accelerated-reading program, so I encourage students to read and then test on their books when they return to school. This gives them a head start toward their incentives and reading certification during the year. Besides, it's fun."
Helping children develop that love of reading is a key part of the summer reading program for libraries across New York. Janet Welch, the state's librarian, said a key part of the program's success is helping children find books they want to read, according to information at www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/summer/research.htm. When children read books they like, they not only become better readers but also learn to love reading, said Welch, who also is former assistant commissioner for libraries. The state's summer reading program "is particularly important to children in less advantaged families where books might not be readily available," she wrote on the state library's Web site. "This program can be a very effective tool in helping to close the achievement gap between rich and poor."
Two local summer programs also offer such boosts to underprivileged children. One is a Higher Achievement Program at Rochester's McQuaid Jesuit High School, and the other is a collaboration focusing on science education that involves the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education and camps offered in Rochester such as those run by the YMCA.
April Luehmann, an assistant professor of education at Warner, said the purpose of the Get Real! Science program is to create informal environments where a child can try out science experiments without the pressure of testing or grades. The classes also have a high teacher-to-student ratio, she added, since they are taught by graduate students working on their master’s degrees.
"It’s a safe and supportive context for kids who don’t have a strong academic identity and don’t have a comfort (level) in science," Luehmann noted. "You try and make it really engaging and fun. In that context, they learn meaningful science."
When these students -- who are mainly from Rochester middle schools -- achieve a level of understanding and success that they didn’t expect, it opens up new opportunities for them when they return to school, Luehmann noted. That is especially so for a subject such as science, which society associates with people who are intelligent, she added.
"It may change the course (for these students)," Luehmann remarked.
That’s also the goal of McQuaid’s HAP program, which serves eighth-grade boys primarily from Rochester, said Joseph Feeney, McQuaid's assistant dean of admissions.
"It’s for city kids who want general academic enrichment but may not be able to afford it," he said. "It enables kids to learn enhanced reading, writing and arithmetic capabilities."
The program costs a small fee and is funded by the schools and the New York Province Society of Jesuits, Feeney said. It also offers McQuaid officials a venue to introduce the students to the school and the financial-aid opportunities that are available for them to attend the school.
Boosting academic, physical and social skills also is a goal of the three-week summer program created by Rochester's Nazareth Hall and Nazareth Academy schools, said Diana Duell, Nazareth Hall principal. The Science, Math, Art Recreation and Technology (SMART) program’s lessons were designed to complement state learning standards to help students maintain and exceed their academic performance, she added.
"Our camp was our way of preventing students from academic regression, which can occur for many children who are not engaged in an organized summer program," noted Stacy Olmo, one of the camp coordinators.
McQuaid -- in addition to offering area boys sports and academic programs in math, music and science -- provides its students with summer sessions in such subjects as math and science. The summer sessions allow students to advance faster so they may take more Advanced Placement courses, Feeney noted.
"This is not remediation," he said. "It’s advancement and enrichment."
Incoming McQuaid sophomores A.J. Tella, 14, and Jonathan Chung, 15, said the summer courses are challenging because the students are learning a week’s worth of material in one day. By July 17, they had already taken a mid-term exam in their trigonometry course.
"It’s really hard and more homework than in the school year," A.J. observed.
"But it’s manageable," Jonathan added.
Both said the extra effort is required for the future engineering or astronomy careers they hope to achieve.
"If you want to do something in math or science in college, you have to start in high school," A.J. remarked.