Some parents, educators worry that long break can lead to 'brain drain'
With summer vacation in full swing, students are enjoying their chance to kick back and relax for awhile. But a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Education warns parents not to let the kids get too comfortable — or else be prepared to face the so-called "brain drain" come fall.
In Mountain View, warding off brain drain is mainly the responsibility of parents, since local schools tend to knock off for the standard eight-week summer break. However, the Mountain View Whisman School District does offer summer school classes at Graham Middle School and Castro Elementary during the month of July, said Sharon Burns, principal of Graham Middle School's summer school program.
While plenty of students can take the whole summer off without a noticeable slowing in their academic performance, Burns said, many others need to stay engaged in order to not fall behind.
Christy Tonge, a parent of two students at Castro Elementary, said she has worries about how summer break might affect her children's academic performance.
"We love summer, but I did feel a little anxious about the unstructured weeks," she said. "I wanted to keep their brains going."
Tonge's solution was to fashion a "homegrown" summer school at her Alice Avenue home. Four mornings a week this summer, Tonge said, she has been working with her children on geography, writing and science, but makes sure to keep things fun by including lots of games and creative ideas for lessons.
"It's been our experiment this summer, and it's been really delightful," she said.
Burns said she thinks this type of stimulation is exactly what kids need.
"It certainly doesn't hurt to keep kids' minds active, but it doesn't need to be in the traditional school setting. Trips to museums, visiting the library and reading, all of those things are great," Burns said.
For many parents, summer break is important precisely because it provides a much-needed respite from the hectic school days.
"We try to spend a good part of the summer lolling around doing nothing," said Bubb parent Janet Sloan. She continued, "I think summer should be about fun and taking a break from schedules and expectations. My children attend summer camps that give them a chance to try some fun activities, like theater camp, music or sports."
Sloan said she noticed the brain drain phenomenon in her two children "a little bit." However, "It has not been a pronounced problem, and once they are reminded they usually remember old skills very quickly," she said.
Fellow Bubb parent Joe Mitchner said he has vivid memories of how much he looked forward to summer break as a child, and wouldn't want to deny that experience to his children.
"Because our kids are keeping pace academically," he said, "we generally kept summer mostly for fun camps and relaxation."
Mitchner said he and his family enjoy the Mountain View Public Library's annual Summer Reading Program, which has students set a goal for the number of books they will read during the summer, and record those books in a special log. Students who reach their goal are eligible for special prizes and free books.
"They do a wonderful job of encouraging summer reading," Mitchner said. "We see many local kids participating, and they deserve strong kudos."
Burns said that the brain drain issue ultimately comes down to the individual child.
"Some kids are raring to go in the fall," she said. "And some need more support."
E-mail Alexa Tondreau at firstname.lastname@example.org