Become an “Education Coach” and Keep the Summer Slide at Bay All Season

Summer is upon us – and with that comes what some call the “summer slide” in students’ academic skills while out of school. There are things that you as a parent can do, though, to take charge and make learning a priority even as the dog days of the season approach.

Below are some ways you can make learning like a sports game. As an “education coach” you can challenge and encourage any child in your life:

  • Set goals – What will you and your child accomplish by a set time?  Examples:  “After two weeks we will know how to count by twos to 50.” Or “After one week we will know how to print your first name.”
  • Practice – Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to work on each goal. Talk about the importance of practice and grit – patience and resilience — in making steady progress.
  • Put some plays into effect – Look for different ways to apply the skills being developed.  Example: Take your child to the store and have her add up the items you have purchased. Get some fresh and free ideas from FREE (Federal Registry for Educational Excellence).
  • Make some touchdowns that will make a difference in their upcoming school year. Help your child to see how what he has done over the summer will put him ahead in the fall. Get a workbook or reading book at the grade level in which she will be.  By mid-summer take out the book and let her begin to work on the areas she has been practicing.
  • Take your team on the road – Have fun and incorporate learning into a summer adventure. Example: Visit a museum, zoo, aquarium, beach or park. Look at maps together and identify where you will visit and how far you will travel. Have your child draw and write about their favorite parts of the trip in the order the events happened.
  • Celebrate – Have a mid-summer reward and really celebrate at the end of the summer for all the goals set that your champion has accomplished!

Carrie Jasper is director of outreach to parents and families at the U.S. Department of Education.

Recognizing the Importance of Summer Learning Day

Today we join hundreds of communities and programs across the country in celebrating National Summer Learning Day, a recognized national advocacy day to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning to our nation’s youth—specifically, in helping close the achievement gap and supporting healthy development.

Summer learning is everywhere; it’s happening in cities and towns all across the country. Today in Fayetteville, NC, the local university is opening its doors to local youth to learn about its College Readiness Summer Institute and how they can participate. In Louisville, KY, Mayor Greg Fischer joined other prominent local figures to kick off Every 1 Learns, a citywide summer learning effort designed to provide access to academic support and meaningful work experience for Louisville youth.

Find more summer learning opportunities across the country on our interactive Summer Learning Day Map.

Last month, I blogged on HomeRoom about how families can keep their teens learning and preparing for college and careers this summer. A few weeks later, First Lady Michelle Obama joined students in San Antonio to highlight her college access initiative Reach Higher. She is supporting President Obama’s “North Star” goal of returning the U.S. to being the leader in college graduates by 2020. One of the core solutions in achieving that goal is summer learning. The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) is excited to partner with the First Lady in helping teens “Reach Higher” all summer long and beyond.

Today it is a true honor to share the stage with the First Lady at the U.S. Department of Education to celebrate National Summer Learning Day. Bringing together high school students and education leaders from across the country, our event highlights the critical role summer learning plays in preparing young people for successful college entry and completion.

The First Lady and other guests will see and hear from young people about the incredible things they learned last summer, like how to write a personal statement,  teach and mentor younger youth, dance, cook healthy meals, apply for financial aid, and even dissect a sheep brain.

The 100 youth joining us today have the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in exemplary programs, and we hope to extend that opportunity to all young people who need and want that experience. Across the country, we’re beginning to see school districts partner with institutions of higher education and other nonprofits to offer rigorous coursework, counseling, and meaningful work experience for young people in the summer, and it’s changing lives.

There’s great reason to believe that summer learning opportunities can increase college access and completion among first generation college students. We’re thrilled that Mrs. Obama has taken notice of the importance of summer learning, and we’re honored to work with her on such an important issue for our nation’s youth.

Sarah Pitcock is CEO of the National Summer Learning Association.

Lessons Learned: The Importance of Summer Experiential Learning

Last Friday, I found myself in an elementary school classroom engaging with students on the topic of summer learning. Studies demonstrate that there is a notable trend of learning loss when young people do not engage in educational opportunities during summer months; thus, summer programs and activities are paramount to preventing the “summer slide”.

As I worked with the students, a light went on in my head as to how I conduct my own academic journey. Learning through action, discovery, and self-exploration can be as valuable as classroom experiences. These instances of experiential learning give me the chance to take classroom theories and practice them. What better time to engage in experiential learning than during the months away from school!

Whether it is getting involved with an internship or simply a local service organization, I challenge all students—especially those in high school and college— to step out of their comfort zones and try something new:

  1. Start your search by determining if your school has a service program; my college has an “Applied Study Term” option that allows us to take a semester off from coursework to grow in the community. These programs are often paired with grant and scholarship opportunities to cover incidental costs. If you’re still in high school, reach out to local organizations, like a community center, a museum, a youth group, or even your own school or library.
  2. Once you’ve narrowed your interests, contact relevant organizations for an interview. I dare you to pick an organization based on the personal contribution you can make to it rather than its name or prestige. Being able to “own” your assignments will help you discover your passions.
  3. Now that you have found a niche, make sure to have fun and connect your experiences over the summer with classroom knowledge. Your mind grows brighter with every light bulb moment.

They always say that the most important lessons in life come from experiencing it; ironically, my lesson still happened in a classroom through my summer internship with ED, just 822 miles away from home.

Michael Lotspeich is an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach and a junior at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Cooling Off Summer Melt: From High School Graduation to the First Day on Campus

Having worked tirelessly towards this culminating moment, June is always an exciting time of year for graduating seniors and their families. Filled with college-going tasks and deadlines, the senior year is intense, and students look forward to the brief reprieve of summer. With the bulk of the college-readiness tasks behind them, all that is left for a student to do is attend commencement, update Instagram with a celebratory selfie, and report to college the first day of class, right? Well, not entirely.

Summer is a critical time for college-going seniors and an optimal time to continue to reach out and engage them in the college process. Having access to a rich social network that will continue to advise them on how to navigate their college pathway, remind them of deadlines and tasks, and help them to overcome their barriers over the summer months, is one of the most valuable tools a graduating senior can have. Here are a few resources to consider for your students social network:

  • Educators: Encourage your student to stay connected with school counselors, teachers, administrators, and college advisors over the summer months. School counselors are uniquely trained to help students navigate the college-going process and are a great resource. Some school districts specifically employ school counselors over the summer months to advise and assist seniors with challenges that may arise.
  • Parents/Guardians: Talk with your student often about the college process. Studies show that speaking frequently to your student about college increases the likelihood of enrollment by seven percentage points.
  • Peers: Connect your student with others going to college for the first time or students already enrolled in the college he or she will attend. Peer influence increases the likeliness of enrollment by over 14 percentage points.
  • Colleges & Universities: Link your student with the new learning community early. Most colleges and universities offer programs that connect with students over the summer months. While some do so through social media, reminding them about mandatory deadlines and tasks, others offer in-person programs such as freshman orientation and bridge programs. Contact your student’s admission office and inquire about such opportunities.

I’ve spoken to thousands of students over the years, and when asked who had the greatest influence in their accomplishments, without fail, nine out of ten times, they name a parent or guardian. Your support and encouragement not only inspires them to go to college, but will sustain them through their pursuit of their degree. As a Professional School Counselor, I’ve watched this moment play out in the lives of numerous families. I encourage you to stop, be present, and tell your student how proud you are of them.

Jasmine Mcleod is the 2014 Scholar-in-Residence for the American Counseling Association and Instructional Systems Specialist for  School Counseling & Psychology at DoDEA schools.

6 Things High School Grads Need to Do Before Leaving for College

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Getting ready for your last high school prom and counting down the days till graduation are all you can think about.  Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner.  Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and headed off to college.  You’re so ready, right?  Well, maybe not.  Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.

Downsize, Get Organized & Learn How to Do Your Own Laundry

You’re not going to be able to take your whole closet and every cherished belonging with you to the dorm.  Start downsizing now and make a list of all the things you’ll need to take with you.  A clean and tidy space will make things a lot more manageable.  Most likely you’ll go home a time or two on break and you can swap out things that you don’t need for things that you do.  But, in between those trips home, you’ll need to learn how to do laundry.  Those whites can turn into some interesting colors and transform into a smaller size if you don’t know your way around a washer and dryer.

Understand Your Financial Situation

Each family’s situation is different – make sure you understand what your family may or may not be able to contribute.  You should’ve already applied for financial aid.  If not, you need to complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP!  Make sure you list on the application the school code of the college you plan to attend so your information is sent to that school.  If you still haven’t decided it’s best to list any school you think you may attend.  The financial aid office will then notify you of any financial aid you might be eligible for.  Know what each of those types of aid is and in what order you should accept them.  Visit StudentAid.gov for information on planning and paying for college.  Do you have enough money to pay for school?  Will you need to work part-time?  Make a budget and know what you can spend on certain things.

Get a Good Calendar and Prepare for a Whole New World of Time Management

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of you will be time management. When you head off to college, you won’t have somebody there to wake you up, make you breakfast and send you out the door in clean clothes with completed homework in hand.  Set yourself up early with a class schedule (make a course syllabus your new best friend) and a system that works for you.  You need to know deadlines for registration, papers, financial aid, coursework and everything in between.  Your chance of succeeding academically will rapidly evaporate if you don’t manage your time well.  You’re worth the investment – manage it well.

Craft a Good Resume and Learn How to Network

No, don’t wait until you’re approaching college graduation to write a cover letter and resume, you need one now.  Having a compelling and professional resume and cover letter is vital to applying for part-time jobs, internships, etc.   You might want to also consider changing your email address.  Employers probably won’t be impressed with an email address like justheretoparty@XXmail.com.  Work experience can be just as important as good grades when looking for jobs after college graduation.   Internships not only provide you with knowledgeable experiences in your field, but they also provide great networking opportunities.  Don’t settle in and nest, put yourself out there and go to as many networking events as possible.

Embrace Coupons and Master the Art of a Good Deal

Another difficult thing to learn is skipping those unnecessary splurges.  Yes, I know it’s all about YOLO but you need to embrace BOGO.  Coupons aren’t just for stay at home moms anymore.  Scoring deals whether in newspapers, magazines or with online sites like Groupon and Living Social it’s easier than ever.  But don’t get so caught up in the deals that you buy vouchers for and you don’t end up using.  That can cost rather than save you money.  Save those splurges for when you score a great “Buy One Get One” free or other greatly discounted offer.    Ask about student discounts and if available a studentadvantage card.  Start practicing this summer.  It’ll impress your friends and it’ll be a little more money in your pocket when you get to campus.  Another great way to save money is buying used textbooks rather than new.  Search sites like bigwords.com, Amazon, and TextbooksRUs to name a few.  If you buy new and then resell them back to the college bookstore check online sites first for what they’re worth.  College bookstore buy back rates are sometimes as low as 10% of what you paid for it new.  Lots of students are also now renting textbooks on sites like chegg.com.

Learn How to Keep You and Your Things Safe

Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and place that lock on your laptop.  Losing your laptop can wreak havoc on your studies and a theft due to an unlocked door can also ruin your relationship with your roommate.  Start practicing being more aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe.  Program your school’s campus security number into your phone.  You never know when you might need it.  Safety also applies to protecting your social security number, PIN and passwords.  Your social security number is one of the main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid, grades, and registering for classes.  Make sure all your passwords and important numbers are not on a post-it-note on your desk.  Store them in a secure place.  Not protecting your identity and important information can have lasting long-term effects on your ability to get a job and apply for credit.

Congratulations on a job well done and making the decision to advance your education!

Susan Thares is the digital engagement lead for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. 

The “Softer” Side of Summer Learning

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It can be challenging helping children with reading, writing, math and science skills during the summer months to combat the “summer slide,” the learning loss than can occur when school is out.  Parents work hard helping their children stay engaged in summer packets and reading lists to reinforce academic skills, or “hard skills,” which though beneficial are often difficult to assist and not very motivating to students during the carefree days of summer.

Instead, a focus on “soft skills,” often called “people skills” can be a more inviting focus of summer learning, can be developed in children of any age and can be the start of successful life-long habits. Skills such as cultivating a growth mindset, setting goals, journaling, reflecting, collaborating, and communicating are just to name a few.

A national survey reports 77% of employers believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace. Some “soft skills” and ways you can help your child cultivate them this summer are:

  • Work ethic – This is also known as “grit.” Grit allows us to keep going and not give up. Give your child a difficult task to complete and encourage them throughout the process for not giving up and teach them how to bounce back from failure.
  • Goal Setting – Have your child write goals for each week and then have them check them off as they get done and celebrate success!
  • Dependability – Make your child responsible for tasks that they can complete independently. Give them a chance to be the leader at a family meeting, or decision-maker for family activities for a day.
  • Positive attitude – Create a gratitude calendar with your child where each day they write down one thing they are grateful for in their lives.
  • Teamwork – Get your child involved with athletics or other activities where they will need to work as a part of a team. Create family and friend activities where all members must work together to accomplish a fun task.
  • Problem solving –Think about ways to make everyday routines and activities a puzzle, such as leaving clues around the house that lead kids to solving puzzles while doing chores. Have them interact with online simulations to solve problems.
  • Reflection – Help your child begin a journal. Each day have them write about the events of the day, observations in nature, or things they have learned. Younger students can use pictures to express thoughts.
  • Communication – Create opportunities for your child to speak to you, family and friends. Use pictures, online field trips, role-play scenarios, or educational videos as conversation starters to get your child thinking and talking.

The most important thing you can do to support these skills is to model them daily. By engaging in activities with your children that focus on the “softer” side of learning this summer you will send them back to school in the fall with critical skills that will impact their future college, career and personal lives.

Dr. Toni Hull, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently is an Instructional Specialist and Science teacher at Mesa Middle School in Las Cruces, NM. You can follow her on twitter @enchantedleader.

A School Counselor’s Tips on Tying up Loose Ends before You Head Off to College

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As a high school counselor in a rural community I’ve been fortunate to work with students and families and guide them through planning and preparing for college.  I’m also a single parent of two kids who survived the college going experience and graduated so I understand the somewhat overwhelming and daunting task it can be, especially for families who have not been through it before.   Once those scholarship applications have been submitted, the FAFSA completed and college acceptances received there are still some things students and parents need to do.

  1. Be courteous and notify the colleges and universities that you applied to but are not planning to attend of your decision.  It will free up their resources to assist other students.
  2. Follow through on scholarship requirements.  Some students, even though they were initially awarded a scholarship, didn’t actually receive the money because they didn’t complete all the requirements.  It may have been that they didn’t file all the necessary paperwork, or meet with their advisor or failed to make the necessary grades. Also remember, scholarships are free/gift money.  Don’t forget to follow up with a simple thank you note to the donor or organization.
  3. Make a financial plan and discuss expectations.  Apply for a debit/credit card if you don’t already have one.  Set limits and create a realistic budget that will carry you through the school year.  StudentAid.gov/budget is a great resource for college budget planning.
  4. Get connected with your new college email system.  This is how you’ll receive information from them.  Reply promptly to requests for information or documentation or you might lose out on some financial aid or end up with the least popular option for your on-campus work study job.
  5. Get credit for your classes. If you took college classes in high school be sure to request an official transcript from the college that you took the classes from be mailed to your future college.  There might be a small fee involved.  What is listed on your high school transcript isn’t enough.
  6.  Attend summer orientation with at least one parent.  Try to schedule it for one of the earlier options.  Typically you’ll be registering for fall classes during your orientation. Waiting until later in the summer means some classes you want to take are already full and you have fewer options to choose from.

You’ve worked hard to get this far but college may be even harder.  Don’t be discouraged.  Focus on the end result and the new heights a college degree will take you to.

Cheryl Knudson is a school counselor for Irene-Wakonda Public Schools in South Dakota

Extending Learning Outside the Classroom: The Power of the Summer Internship

As a teacher, I’ve seen the tremendous impact internships have on a student’s ability to see him or herself as capable of success.  They can provide students deliberate exposure to role models who have used education as a vehicle for success, thus helping students see success as tangible for themselves.

Through summer internships, students gain real-world skills and cultivate a sense of pride and purpose. They also see that they have something of value to contribute to the world.  Internships can expose students to academic majors they never previously considered and provide them with real-world career preparatory skills.

Students of mine who participated in such programs have remarked on how much their lives and perspectives have changed.  One of my students, Joy, said of her internship with the Bureau of Engineering, “I was able to learn about a community by contributing to society and helping it achieve a cleaner environment. I job shadowed important city officials, got involved in the Echo Park Lake rehabilitation process, and the gained a once-in-a-life time opportunity which will open up my future.”

Another student, Paola, recently applied social media skills she learned in a Global Girls Internship last summer by creating a class blog on what it means for our students to be learners (thelearnersproject.wordpress.com) and has decided she wants to major in journalism.

So, how does a student go about getting a summer internship?  Here are five easy steps for students to make the idea a reality and for their supporters to help them do so:

  1. Research.  Schools often have a career center, career wall space, or a staff member who knows about current internship and community opportunities.  Also, a Google search will return a plethora of listings. Narrow down by location, field and time frame.  You may even be able to travel for free with your internship — the possibilities are endless!
  2. Resume.  Assemble a basic resume that includes your experiences in and out of school.  Highlight experiences that show skills including leadership, community service, teamwork, technology or linguistic skills.  Be sure to have someone you trust proofread your resume.
  3. Letter of recommendation.  Tell a teacher, coach, counselor, or community member you’ll be applying for internships and ask if they know you well enough to write you a good letter of recommendation.  Give them a few weeks notice if possible.  You may want to ask for a few copies of the letter and ask if they can also be a reference for you on your application.  Be sure to note if the application asks for a letter that is signed and individually submitted, or simply included with the application.
  4. Essay.  Some internships may ask for statements on why you want the internship, what your goals are, how you’ve faced hardships or how you’ve contributed to your school or community.  Remember to focus not only on what you did, but what it says about who you are as a person.  When writing from a solutions-based, survivor mindset, focus on focus on how you dealt with challenges, rather than simply the challenges themselves.
  5. Job interview.  Be prompt, be prepared and be present.  Attend school or community offers workshops on job preparation. Practice your interview handshake and greeting, rehearse questions ahead of time, research their organization so that you have some knowledge about it going in, and come up with a couple follow-up questions to ask your interviewers.  Follow up with a thank you email or card telling them you really enjoyed meeting them and learning about their organization.

In an ideal world, all students would have the opportunity to participate in internships and programs to enrich their education.  This would not be separate from their education at school, but an extension of their academic learning.  Internships and programs are powerful opportunities for students to take charge of their own learning and invest in their own potential.  Thought it takes time and planning, it has made a world of difference for my students and I’m sure yours will feel the same.

Good luck!

Linda Yaron, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, currently teaches English, Peer College Leadership, and Healthy Lifestyles at the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities in Los Angeles, CA.