August 28, 2000
A Smarter Summer: Back to School
by Carol H. Rasco, Director, America Read Challenge
This summer's gas prices set records, but it's also been a smarter summer for record numbers of American children.
This year, nearly 3 million children participated in Read€Write€Now!, a U.S. Department of Education project that gives millions of kids an alternative to "dumber summer syndrome." That's when months of mental idleness erode or erase a student's school year gains.
Many more youngsters benefited from summer literacy programs at schools, libraries, camps and community centers. Each of these varied programs has one thing in common: the view of summer not as "time off" from learning, but as an essential bridge to the next grade.
The good habits kids learn during a smarter summer should be nurtured once they are back in school. For example:
Reading for pleasure to inspire a constructive, lifelong habit. Visiting the library to expose kids to an abundance of knowledge. Limiting TV time to allow kids' brainpower to blossom. Finding fun in learning to make life a greater adventure.
As summer draws to a close, parents can continue to be their children's best teachers. Family members can help their children read aloud, do crosswood puzzles, calculate coupons and explore science through cooking. Adults can encourage children to write letters to relatives or pen pals. Daily practice keeps skills sharp.
Of course, some children still need extra help once school is in session, particularly in reading and math. Fortunately, a new source of help is available in virtually every community.
Through the U.S. Department of Education's America Reads and America Counts programs, college students earn financial aid for tutoring children in reading or math. The government pays up to 100% of their wages through the Federal Work-Study program at colleges, universities, and trade schools. It doesn't cost parents or schools a dime, and college students earn money to pay for books, tuition, and other expenses.
More than 1,400 colleges and universities volunteered for the America Reads program in its first few years. It worked so well, Congress passed a new law requiring virtually all institutions to place reading tutors in their communities after July 1, 2000. That's a total of 3,400 institutions of higher education whose students can help children to succeed in school. Students may even tutor parents who need help with their own literacy skills.
How can you tap this resource in your community? Contact the Financial Aid Office at your local college or university. If the institution already has an America Reads program, ask the financial aid officer to send more tutors to your child's elementary school, child care center, community center, or after-school program. Many institutions will be expanding their number of community service jobs this fall.
If the institution's program is just beginning, seize your chance to become an early partner. Offer to introduce the financial aid officer to your child's teacher, child care director, community group, or after-school program leader. These folks can identify the struggling students who need extra time and attention from a personal tutor.Back-to-school time is not time to slack off in helping all children to achieve. Extending learning beyond the classroom will build better students. More tutors and brighter summers mean smarter kids in record numbers.
For details on the America Reads*America Counts Federal Work-Study program, call the U.S. Department of Education at (800) USA-LEARN. Information is on the web at www.ed/gov/americareads and www.ed.gov./americacounts.
For guidance on how parents can help kids learn, call (877) ED-PUBS and ask about free publications in the "Helping Your Child" series.