Summer School: SEL Matters
Soon millions of school children will be celebrating the last day of school and the start of summer vacation. For many children this will entail family trips, swimming and camping out under the stars among other quintessential summertime activities. Yet for many children from low-income households it will mean summer school—half days back at school for remediation in math and reading in an attempt to thwart the dreaded, but very real “summer slide.”
These types of summer school programs have their roots in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and its most recent reauthorizations as the No Child Left Behind Act. Included in these acts is Title 1, which provides funding to close the achievement gap for students from low-income households. It’s a good thing, too, because it is well documented that there is a direct relationship between household income and academic achievement. Specifically, students from low-income households have lower levels of academic achievement than their more affluent peers. In addition, students from low-income households show a larger decline in reading skills over the summer than their middle-class counterparts. While remedial summer school programs have been shown to have a positive impact on students’ knowledge and skills, a large achievement gap still exists between income groups.
In further addressing the achievement gap, schools would benefit from broadening the scope of their summer school programs to include social and emotional skills. In fact, social and emotional skills become even more important during summer school because it is largely directed at children from low-income households. Research shows that students from low-income households are the very students that need social and emotional skill development the most. Similar to its effect on academic performance, household income is directly related to a child’s social and emotional development. That is, children from low-income households are at a greater risk of having weaker social and emotional skills than their middle-class counterparts. Strong social and emotional skills, in turn, have been linked to improved academic achievement. Therefore, the achievement gap persists because low household income negatively affects not just academic achievement alone, but also social and emotional skill development. Therefore, summer school programs unintentionally maintain the achievement gap by ignoring social and emotional skill development and only targeting one contributing factor of the achievement gap—academics.
If many of our students from low-income households will be spending their summer days in school instead of in ways that mirror our visions of idyllic summer days; let’s at least commit to make their learning as idyllic as possible. To truly make a difference for these students and reduce the achievement gap, social and emotional skill deficiencies need to be addressed along with academic deficiencies. Then, summer will become a bit more ideal.