While learning loss, often known as the “summer slide,” is a challenge for many students every summer, the past year of virtual and hybrid learning has created more concern in a year following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Counties and county library systems are taking steps to combat the “summer slide” by providing resources and programming to prevent learning loss.
In New Castle County, Del., County Executive Matt Meyer, a former middle school math teacher, proposed an investment of up to $500,000 to the county council for urgent summer learning programs in collaboration with K-12 institutions.
“We’re hearing of learning loss in the base subjects of English and math where students just were not getting any sort of academic attainment, not retaining much information, not accelerating their reading performance through online learning,” he said.
The proposal includes a collaboration with the Red Clay Freedom School, which provides summer and after-school enrichment to support K-12 students, and Reading Assist, which provides intensive services for at-risk children facing reading challenges, as the first organizations to receive funding from the county.
“As a former math teacher, I know we’d always say, ‘you learn to read and then you read to learn,’” Meyer said.
New Castle County previously launched a website for county residents to contribute ideas on where to invest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds throughout the county, which led to the formation of five task force committees to make recommendations, one focused on early education.
“We’ve got to make sure that resources are not the problem,” Meyer said.
While some students benefited from a hybrid or online learning environment, he said areas with high poverty rates are seeing significant learning loss.
“There are really some urgent issues in terms of learning loss both this summer and this fall and so we wanted to make sure we partnered with all of our public schools to support their efforts to address COVID-19-related learning loss and we did it as a matter of urgency,” he said.
County libraries are also stepping up to provide summer programming with enhanced schedules of events to keep children reading during the summer.
Houston County, Ga. Public Library System Director J. Sara Paulk said the library is getting back to holding more programming events that she hopes serve as a return to in-person learning this fall.
“We’re gearing up a little bit stronger and heavier this summer and we’re getting a lot of good turnout,” she said.
San Mateo County, Calif. Libraries launched new summer learning opportunities to help students overcome challenges from the past year with the Library’s Joint Power Authority (JPA) Board approving nearly $900,000 in funding to support programming this summer.
Library JPA Governing Board Chair Reuben Holober said summer learning loss is a concern every year but has been exacerbated because of the pandemic.
“We really felt compelled to make this investment in our youth and summer programming to help ease the transition back to in-person education,” he said.
Deputy Director of Library Services Carine Risley said the library developed and expanded upon already-existing programming for the summer.
“Staff worked really hard to focus on some strategies that we felt would be most effective and beneficial this summer,” she said.
The library expanded its Big Lift Inspiring Summers Program, usually held as a four-week camp, to five weeks, holding ratios down for more personalized attention between adults and youth.
This year, Risley said they will serve 1,100 kids in the summer, a bump from previous years due to more interest in enrollments.
“There’s more need than we are serving this summer for sure,” she said.
“There’s a lot of demand.”
The camp supports youth in the seven highest need districts with youth who aren’t reading on grade level by third grade. San Mateo County Libraries will also be holding youth-only days three times per week throughout the summer using the curriculum from the Big Lift program.
Additionally, the libraries will be offering more interactive materials and experiences for families who want to work with children at home.
“Many people want to limit the number of in-person experiences they’re having this summer, but we want to provide those quality enrichments and make sure people have the tools and the resources to do hands-on, project-based learning,” Risley said.
To expand the reach of library programming this summer, county libraries will be working with the parks and recreation department to provide library materials and further enrich the youth experience.
“I think if this is a program that is successful, that alleviates some of the summer learning loss and provides a nourishing, enriching experience for the kids and their families, then I think that would certainly be a success,” Holober said.