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Foss: Summer is about getting outside the classroom

Foss: Summer is about getting outside the classroom

Foss: Summer is about getting outside the classroom
Counselor Andrew LeGere works with summer school students in a first grade class at Paige Elementary.

I don't remember setting foot in school during my summer breaks. 

I spent my summers at the lake, with my friends, attending swimming lessons. I went to summer camp. I went on trips, visited museums and still had countless hours to read, play badminton in the yard and ride my bicycle. 

Had my mother informed me that I was going to spend four weeks of summer in a classroom, learning math and reading, I would have been very disappointed. 

More than 1,000 Schenectady students are spending four weeks of their summer at city schools, as part of a summer program aimed at preventing the dreaded summer slide -- the loss in learning that occurs when students are out of school. 

The summer slide is real, and the students most likely to be affected are those the Schenectady City School District's summer program is designed to help. 

According to the National Summer Learning Association, low-income students lose two to three months in reading achievement over the summer while their higher income peers tend to make slight gains. Most youth lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math skills. 

Preventing this summer slide is a desirable goal, and the Schenectady summer program should prove beneficial over the long haul. 

But I still can't help but feel a little sorry for kids spending such a large chunk of their summer in summer school. 

Especially when a casualty of the school district expanding its enrichment program appears to be the loss of the SCORE camp, which was organized by the Schenectady City School District and the Schenectady County Youth Bureau. 

Based at Central Park, the SCORE camp was a more traditional summer camp program, where children learned to swim and kayak, explored the woods and studied the park's ecology. 

Children in the district's summer program do go to Central Park -- each camper gets at least one hour of swim lessons a week. (Which is not nearly enough, but I digress.) But they spend a lot more time inside, learning math and reading. 

There's a trade-off here. 

The emphasis on academics and classroom learning means there's less time for the outdoors -- for enjoying nature, physical activity and play. Kids learn from these experiences, too. 

What they're learning might not be as tangible as, say, an algebra lesson, but it's just as valuable. Even as we work to prevent the summer slide, we need to find ways to ensure that kids get a taste of what life has to offer outside the classroom. 

When I worked as a camp counselor, I saw children blossom during a week spent living in the woods in a cabin, playing games, swimming, canoeing and hiking. 

I saw kids gain confidence in themselves, learn new skills and discover facets of their personalities they didn't know they had. 

I now understand that my childhood was very privileged, and that not everyone has the same opportunities I had. 

Many families find camp an unaffordable luxury, or lack transportation necessary for getting to summer programs. Not everyone can take a big family vacation. And many parents work full time and can't supervise children who wish to climb trees or play games in the yard with their friends, as I once did.  

These realities don't change the fact that kids need opportunities to learn outside of the classroom -- to learn the sorts of things you can't learn from books.

School is important. 

But so is summer break, and a good summer learning program will strike a healthy balance between academics and outdoor fun.

If you spend most of your day in school, you lose out on a whole other way of learning about the world.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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