When a summer in quarantine began, Vancouver mom Michelle Hamann knew her family would be spending a lot more time inside. The usual travel, baseball games and summer programs that fill the Hamanns’ time are off the table while social distancing restrictions remain in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Once school is out, we hit the ground running,” said Hamann, a substitute teacher. “What we’re getting this year, it’s like 24 hours a day, seven days a week of we’re home.”
Students can struggle during the summer in the best of times. Research suggests children experience some level of learning loss during the three months outside of the classroom, meaning they enter a new school year academically behind where they finished the previous school year.
With schools switching to remote learning in March due to the pandemic, those setbacks are expected to be worse. Research by Portland-based NWEA, an education-focused nonprofit organization, projects that students could backslide in their reading and math skills by months.
“Based on what we know about summer learning loss now extended over a six-month period, they’re suggesting that some kids may fall a full grade level behind,” said Matthew Boulay, founder of the National Summer Learning Association. “In some cases, that’s a best-case scenario.”
He said those losses can be worse for students from low-income families, whose parents may be less educated, own fewer books or have less access to summer programs than more affluent families.
“In a meritocracy, we invest a lot in schools in order to provide, ideally, all kids with opportunity,” Boulay said. “When you shut schools down, those home-based inequalities are going to increase.”
Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries, the YMCA and other local organizations are offering limited summer programming to ease the gap for children and families, much of it online.
“Even working from home for a few months, you start to zone out,” said Kelsey Hudson, the library system’s student and youth partnership coordinator. “We’re really continuing people thinking and engaging — and wherever possible, interacting with each other.”
The library is offering weekly virtual performances by musicians and artists every Tuesday and Thursday through mid-August, while language conversation groups, Dungeons & Dragons game sessions and other activities have been moved online.
The YMCA is offering some limited day camps with daily health screenings for children, along with online classes and tutoring students can do at home.
Parents can also work on their own to keep their children on track by maintaining the schedule and routines they do during the school year, Boulay said. Use community resources, he said, and talk with your children every day about their questions and concerns.
Academic achievement isn’t the only thing suffering during this pandemic, he said. Children — and adults — may be feeling more depressed and anxious during this time.
“We need to make sure we’re comforting each other,” he said.
Hamann is keeping her children occupied by having them pursue what she calls “passion projects.” Aaron, 9, is practicing illustration and animation. On Friday, his parents took him out to record him punching a tree so he could use it as a sound effect in an animation project.
Steven, 11, is diving into NBA statistics to identify the best basketball player to hold any given number in the history of the sport. He’s planning on creating a video presentation by the end of the summer.
“It’s just about filling the hours in the days — and maybe not 24 hours a day of YouTube,” Hamann said.
Still, Hamann isn’t worried about her kids’ academic progress. She acknowledged that she and her husband, also a teacher, are privileged not to have to worry about her boys falling behind.
“For us, it’s more about keeping them engaged,” she said. “We’re more concerned about teaching them the skills to persevere, more than do your times tables.”