Summer critical for Eagle County students |

Summer critical for Eagle County students

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyBrian Gonzalez, 9, browses through a book Friday at the Avon Library while he waits for one of the library's children's programs to begin. Reading is one way children can keep their minds active over the summer break.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Take a few moments this summer to watch your child engage in a three-hour marathon of Major League Baseball 2K8 on the Nintendo Wii.

With every swing of that controller, how easy is it to imagine knowledge, wisdom and power just oozing out their brains?

Educators say it’s easy for children to lose skills over the long summer break, and when they return to school in September, a lot of time is spent reteaching basics.

Studies show that students can lose one to three months worth of learning when they return to school after a long summer break. Students forget math equations, get confused with science concepts and slow down in reading comprehension. Even the brightest students can have their brains dulled from lack of use.

Summer is an especially critical time for the hundreds of Eagle County students who are struggling to learn English. They’re spending more time at home with their families, where Spanish may be the only language spoken and heard. English can easily take a back seat for three months, and it shows when some students come back to school in the fall.

The solution? “Read, read, read,” says Anthony Barela, principal at Red Hill Elementary.

Books are portable, easy to find, entertaining, and they help tremendously for all types of students, whether you’re at the top of your class or need extra help.

“Kids need to read at home, read with mom and dad, keep taxing their minds and put down the Playstation and Wii,” Barela said. “The more you read, the better off you are. It increases your vocabulary, helps you understand what words and concepts mean ” all those things that make you a good student.”

Most schools do everything they can near the end of the year to encourage students to continue reading over the summer. Just 20 minutes a day can make a difference, says Heidi Hanssen, principal at Edwards Elementary.

Students at Edwards Elementary are asked to keep reading logs over the summer, and will be rewarded if they meet their goals by the time school starts again.

“Our students signed a contract saying that they promised to read during the summer,” Hanssen said. “They love their teachers and they’ll do anything they ask.”

There’s a variety of reading programs being offered by the Eagle Valley Library District and Vail Library, such as the “Catch the Reading Bug” program, which will focus on insect themes, games and prizes for kids in kindergarten through 5th grade.

Edwards Elementary keeps its school library open during the summer, making it easier for families to find books. Most families live within walking distance of the school, meaning they won’t have to take a bus or car ride to the Avon library if they want a book.

Students will even be able to take reading quizzes, to check on their progress during the summer.

“If you don’t use it you lose it ” everyone should always be stretching their brains in the summer,” Hanssen said.

Students who were behind during the regular school year have been encouraged to attend an intensive summer school program being offered by the school district.

Summer school isn’t for everyone, but it’s important for all students, even ones who are doing well in class, to keep their brain working in the summer, Barela said.

Ok, so you’ve done your 20 minutes of reading today. Time to hit the Playstation, right?

Wrong. When a student isn’t reading, encourage them to spend some more time outside, Barela said.

Research shows that staying physical helps increase concentration, improve mathematics, reading, and writing test scores and reduce disruptive behavior.

Summer’s a great time to let your imagination expand, get away from the video games, be social, get fit and appreciate the wonderful Colorado weather. Doing those things are harder in the digital age, where playing baseball on the Wii is very tempting, Barela said.

“When I was a kid, as soon as summer began, it was all about, ‘As soon as it’s dark out, you need to be back home,'” Barela said. “Get out there and have fun, go get scrapped up on your bike, fall and get scabs. That’s the fun part about being a kid.”

For students needing a little more structure, there are organizations like the Youth Foundation that are offering summer programs like First Tee, which teaches teach students golf, soccer and martial arts.

During these programs, students may not be sitting down with books and studying math programs. They’ll spend more time learning about things like teamwork, respect and integrity ” concepts that can be just as important in a child’s development as anything else, said Katie Bruen, marketing coordinator for the Youth Foundation.

“While we’re doing a golf lesson, we show how you display respect on the golf course, then we talk about the same thing again for other things in life ” how do you respect your parents, how do you show respect for your siblings,” Bruen said.

Organized summer programs can especially be beneficial for students learning a second language, she said.

“For students learning English, the summer can be a tough time when they’re at home with families who only speak Spanish, so being with kids who speak English in our summer programs is a huge benefit to keeping their minds going,” Bruen said.

1. Read Every Day

Take your kids to the library often and let them choose which books to check out. Listen to books on tape. Subscribe your kids to a magazine. Take turns reading to each other. Allow your kids to stay up a half hour later at night as long as they’re reading.

2. Use Math Every Day

Research shows that the largest summer learning losses for all children are in math abilities. Practice the multiplication tables by making each point in a basketball game worth seven points (or 8 or 9). Ask your kids to make change at the drive-thru. Show your child how to go to to play math games. Make up math word problems in the car and at the dinner table.

3. Get Outside and Play

Research shows that staying physical helps academic achievement, including increased concentration, improved mathematics, reading, and writing test scores and reduced disruptive behavior.

Find ways to ensure your child is active for 60 minutes each day. Have him or her walk the neighbor’s dog, go swimming, play badminton or soccer, take walks, or go for family bike rides. Look for safe, fun ways to play outside together year-round.

4. Write Every Week

Ask your child to write a weekly letter to his or her grandparents, relatives, or friends. Encourage him to keep a summer journal. Have them write the family’s grocery list.

5. Do a Good Deed

Students learn better and “act out” less when they start participating in community service. Encourage your child to help out neighbors or friends. He or she can volunteer with a local group or complete a service learning project. Suggest that your child set aside part of his allowance for charity. Look at Nickelodeon’s Big Help Web site together for more ideas.


Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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