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It Takes a Village: The Achievement Gap and Summer Learning

The achievement gap is the difference in academic performance between groups of students. There are some learners who are motivated, some who aren’t, and some who love to learn. The reality is that there will most likely always be an achievement gap as long as inequity exists within education. Once we see that this is not a singular issue, we can then begin to figure out how to best navigate it and strategize to lessen that gap.

With that being said, there is no reason for the achievement gap to widen throughout the summer months with the various resources that are available. Below are some ways we can all help bridge the achievement gap through the summer months when students are not in a traditional academic setting.

What Is Summer Learning?

First, what is summer learning, and to whom does it apply? The current way our educational system is formatted, we look at summer learning in two ways: intervention or enrichment. We target students who are in need of significant assistance and those who are gifted and talented, but we pay less attention to the majority of students who land in the middle.

Learners traditionally attended summer school because they were unsuccessful the previous year. In recent years, teachers have been giving their students identified as gifted and talented opportunities to enrich themselves during the summer, providing them with summer reading, additional assignments, and various content to work on during the break. Instead of focusing solely on the highest- versus the lowest-performing students in the learning community, we should provide a summer learning opportunity for all students to promote the bridging of the achievement gap.

Who Needs to Be Involved?

It takes a village to make an ideal summer learning opportunity. In addition to learners, the people who could be involved are teachers, parents/guardians, academic leaders, and community leaders. Students need a structured place to continue their learning.

  • Teachers can provide the foundation and curriculum behind what students could learn over the summer.
  • Parents/guardians can support their child’s choice to be involved in summer learning opportunities. They may need to provide transportation, pay fees, encourage their child to want to partake, motivate him or her when needed, and hold him or her accountable.
  • Academic leaders can provide the staffing, building and/or virtual program, and discipline needed to have a safe, functioning summer opportunity.

Community leaders are so very important. The ability to partner with other organizations within your community who are already offering summer academic opportunities will only help learners and the organization become stronger.

What Curriculum Should We Use?

The curriculum is the best part to figure out. During the school year, teachers are constantly following guidelines, standards, benchmarks, and expectations; however, a summer learning opportunity gives teachers a platform to be more creative with the content they want the student to complete. Here are some ideas to help you create a successful summer learning opportunity:

Create a “Wish List”

This would involve all the items you wish your students knew before starting your class. Apply those items to your summer learning opportunity, then you can save your class time for more rich conversations or accelerated content.

Topic-Based Learning

You could create a summer learning opportunity that mimics how community education centers organize their “classes.” For example, maybe on Mondays and Wednesdays, you have a “Tablet Basics” class, or a “Deep Dive into Box Plots” one. As a teacher, you can choose topics that students traditionally struggle with during the school year and offer those topics to all students as a learning opportunity they can sign up for. The class can be an hour a week if you want; this is completely customizable for what you’d want your students to learn.

Off-Site Learning

You can work with community leaders and/or organizations to provide some off-site learning opportunities for your students. For example, what local historical pieces do you have near you? Maybe you can create an assignment that is cross-curricular with English and social studies to help learners.

Create Learner Groups

Find the groups of students who will partake in the summer learning opportunity and create “learner groups” to help with your accountability piece. Not only will they hold each other accountable to complete everything being asked of them, but they will also have people they can travel around with if the option is given for students to do off-site learning.

Structure Is Your Friend

The more structured your summer program is, the better it will be for you in the end. If you can provide a syllabus or even a calendar of events and deadlines for students to use as a guide, you will probably have more success.

Hold “Office Hours”

If you’re offering a summer learning opportunity that is more rigorous and you know students will need more guidance, you can offer office hours if you’d like. You could set this up in a virtual way or have a physical place for students to meet you and ask questions.


So how do you ensure that your students complete the summer learning program? Well, that can be achieved in a variety of ways. If they paired up with a community organization, there probably is some type of record of attendance you could check. You could have an ungraded assessment during the first day or two of the year and use it as a diagnostic to see where students are academically for your course. You could even have them create a final project in a visual format to show what they learned over the summer and have it presented in the class (this can be used as advertising for the next summer).

Whatever you decide to do, less grading on the teacher’s part is better. We all know that zero grading is the best, but will your students have the motivation to complete the work without an incentive? If you say the incentive is having the knowledge to be ahead of most people in the class, will that work for them?

Finally, creating a summer learning opportunity can be a lot of front-loading work for teachers before the school year is completed, but it is worthwhile. Also, it will provide a great learning opportunity for all students you serve, which can then be used as a bridge to address your achievement gap.

It may take some time to get a good summer learning opportunity up and running smoothly, but once it is, your students, teachers, and school community will be very grateful for the opportunity provided for them.

If you’re looking for additional ways to encourage summer learning, take a look at our three tips to make the summer months an academically productive time.

Questions about summer school

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