Summer is waning, the days are getting shorter and the back to school preparations are in full swing. The school bus tires are getting rotated and lockers are being dusted out. The janitor is humming along with the floor buffer. Teachers are sharpening #2 pencils, clapping out erasers and unpacking textbooks.
Scratch that. Start again.
Transportation mechanics are actually dropping an enhanced electric motor system into the school bus to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The maintenance technician is programming the boundaries of the robotic floor cleaning system and the teachers and paraprofessionals are logging onto laptops and tablets.
But one part of the picture does remain unchanged from the past: summer break itself. The origin of summer break can be found in the cramped, hot and smelly cities of the 19th century, when being inside all summer must have seemed like torture. As time went by, cooling fans and air conditioning were invented, plumbing infrastructure improved dramatically, and the piles of horse manure in the streets went, well, the way of the horse and buggy. But summer break remains the same for most schools in the U.S., between two to three months long. And while many of us have fond memories of long lazy summers, and children need a break from school, there is no denying that a long summer vacation is not optimal for retaining knowledge.
Research shows that students typically score lower at the end of summer break on standardized tests than they do at the beginning (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004), and that much of the achievement gap between youth from higher and lower income families is due to a disparity in access to summer learning opportunities (Alexander et al., 2007). While some districts are beginning to move away from the traditional model of two to three months off, most educators have no choice but to do their best to address the summer brain drain. It’s not just math and reading skills that will need to be re-booted. When kids have been out of the school setting for so long, their in-school behavior skills can use freshening up as well.
How can we help students start off on the right track at the beginning of the year?
Here are some ways that teachers, staff, administrators and parents can lay the groundwork for a positive and successful school year:
• Teach behavior expectations. Don’t assume that students know the rules or that they remember them from last year. Explain and demonstrate expectations at the beginning of the year and continue to teach them at regular intervals.
• Encourage positive behavior. Children love adult attention. If you let students know that their behavior is valued and appreciated, they will be more likely to continue the positive behavior.
• Make school a positive place to be. When students feel welcome, safe and appreciated at school, they are more likely to behave well and will have better academic outcomes.
IRIS Educational Media is offering a free online professional development course called Systematic Supervision: Schoolwide PBS for Everything Elementary through the end of 2014. This course is for teachers, administrators, staff, parents and students and helps encourage positive behavior in classrooms, playgrounds, common areas, buses, and at home. The program consists of entertaining, realistic video vignettes and printable summaries. There’s also a fun video for kids to teach them about behavior expectations. We encourage you to use this course to train the entire staff for free, reduce problem behavior and create a positive school environment.