Community Commentary: Vacation doesn't have to mean a lack of learning

With the school year at an end, and as students prepare for long summer days without having to worry about schoolwork, I'm reminded of the old English proverb — "idle hands are the devil's tools." Without school, many adolescents will be left alone to fill their days, and as a veteran educator, I'm concerned that those days will not be filled constructively with activities that challenge the mind and stimulate intellectual development.

Research indicates that most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math over the summer. For low-income students, more than two months in reading aptitude are lost from the end of the school year to the beginning of the next. As a result, schools must spend weeks reviewing lessons that were taught the previous school year. This is a tremendous waste of resources. Thus, as the world flattens and job competition gets even tougher, parents must be vigilant in ensuring students continue to learn during the summer months.

Summer provides families with an important chance to get away together after a long and stressful school year. However, there are plenty of opportunities for students to enjoy their vacation while engaging in learning activities to keep their minds sharp, so that they are ready to pick up where they left off once they return to school. Participating in summer programs at local schools, taking trips to the local library or scheduling educationally themed vacations are but a few ways of maintaining a student's focus on learning.

In addition to stagnating academic growth, unstructured summer months also give students more time for mischief, and with the popularity of the Internet and social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, starting trouble has never been easier. Educators are particularly concerned with the potential increase in cyber-bullying as kids spend more time online. With just a few keystrokes, bullying has turned into something parents must be mindful of 24/7.

Recent data on cyber-bullying from DoSomething.org indicates that nine out of 10 middle school students have had their feelings hurt online, while nearly 42% of schoolchildren have been bullied online. Unfortunately, cyber-bullying isn't going away any time soon, so it's incumbent on parents to be proactive in trying to limit its impact.

It's up to parents to stem the tide of cyber-bullying. Sit down and talk to your children about the issue. Ask if they've been victimized by someone they know. An open dialogue is healthy for both you and them. It lets them know that you are concerned about their well-being, or, if they are a perpetrator, it warns them that you are cognizant of cyber-bullying and that you may be monitoring their online activity. Taking an active role is critical to prevention. Fortunately, there are plenty of valuable tips available to parents on cyber-bullying on websites like CommonSenseMedia.org and GetParentalControls.org to help.

It's easy to think back to summers long ago and remember the good times spent with families and friends. Much has changed since then, and while it's important to allow children and adolescents to enjoy their youth, it's just as important that we do everything we can to make sure they continue to grow academically, personally and socially during the summer months so they are ready to succeed when their school days are behind them.

MARYAM POURMOHSEN is head of school at Fusion Academy & Learning Center in Huntington Beach.

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