Summer off, some are studying

    Some educators call summer “the great eraser” because kids forget so much of what they have learned during their long break.

    Getting back in the swing of things when the school year starts back up is hard for all students.

    It’s especially tough for children with learning or behavioral difficulties, says Holly Zipperer, director of summer programs at Valley Forge Educational Services.

    Zipperer says students with special needs take more time to recoup their skills, which then eats into the academic school year and causes them to be behind.

    She says kids with special needs not only lose hard-earned academic gains, but social skills as well. For some kids, Zipperer says, an important benefit of summer school is sticking to a set schedule.

    “They have a routine where they are engaged in the learning process, instead of being isolated or sitting at home, or not participating in community activities in the summer having that routine helps them feel comfortable or safe,” she said

    Valley Forge Educational Services offers classes for special-needs children year round, but during the summer, its students are a mixed crowd. About half have identified special needs; for example, some are on the autism spectrum while others have different developmental delays.

    The rest, who have trouble with specific subjects, are at the school to brush up their skills.

    Selling summer school

    Perfecting your spelling while your peers are camping, swimming, or riding their bikes can be a tough sell, admits Tracy Buck, who directs one of the programs called “summer at crossroads.”

    She tells her students that she, too, went to summer school.

    “I let them know that it made me a stronger person, to be able to get through school and be more comfortable in my abilities,” Buck said. “Once they find out that I went to summer school they are kind of like, ah, so it’s not like a punishment.”

    The lush green campus helps dispel any notions of punishment, and students spend a lot of time outside. Students can pick from a smorgasbord of recreational activities that fit in with the overarching teaching theme for all classes and activities this summer is “the great outdoors.”

    Learning outside of the classroom is a big deal on this campus, and goes beyond brief field trips. Holly Zipperer just returned from a week at the beach with one group of students. These were older students with different disabilities, and the goal was to prepare them for life after school.

    Becoming independent

    Kellie, an 18-year-old Springfield, Delaware County, resident was part of the group. She says she learned skills—taking out the trash, cleaning the dishes, cooking on the grill—that she says will help her become independent.

    “I love cooking on the grill,” said Kelly. “I think it taught me very well to get out of my shell more, step up to the plate more, and help out more.”

    Zipperer said introducing or reintroducing skills in a different environment goes a long way to foster learning. Buck agrees.

    “It’s not so pressure pressure pressure—’Get this done, this is the standard it has to be done by now,'” said Buck. “It’s more like. ‘What’s the area of need, let’s focus on it and see how many things we can do to focus on this area.'”

    Bucks said she knows she’s making the sale with her students on the idea of summer learning, because most of them come back the next summer.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.