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Ask the Pace Expert: Education

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School of Education Associate Professor and Director of the Delany Center for Educational Enrichment Sister M. St. John Delany discusses how you can keep your student sharp over summer vacation.

Sister M. St. John Delany, PhD, associate professor at the School of Education and director of the Delany Center for Educational Enrichment—only just recently renamed in her honor—has been a mainstay in the Westchester community for more than 70 years. In 2013, White Plains Mayor Tom Roach declared October 24 as “Sister St. John Delany Day.” Delany taught first grade in White Plains from 1941 to 1972 before founding the recently renamed Center for Literacy Enrichment and becoming an associate professor at Pace’s School of Education. In its 43rd year of serving a diverse range of students from all backgrounds, the Center is staffed by trained literacy tutors, many of whom are MSEd in Literacy students at Pace. Some of Delany’s former students include US Poet Laureate (20042006) Billy Collins; NFL great Robert “Bob” Hyland; and Pat Casey, editor of the White Plains Examiner.

Here’s what she has to say about summer learning loss in school-aged children and what we as parents can do to prevent the loss of learning:

What exactly is the summer learning gap and why should it be important to parents?

When one is away from any activity for a length of time—say, riding a bike or playing the piano—one forgets and needs to practice to be ready for the next step. During the summer, children relax, have fun, and put any kind of learning “on the back burner” so to speak. However, material that they have memorized or not rehearsed can very, very easily be forgotten. The research tells us that when individuals memorize material for a test and take the test, the minute he or she walks out of the room, the material is forgotten. Parents need to know this, to be aware of this, and in some shape or form, to provide learning experiences outside of a book for example, with travel and even with conversation.

What would you say to parents and students who say summer vacation is meant to be a relaxing time only?

When children return to school in the fall, the teacher needs to review to make certain that there is a foundation on which to build new material. There does need to be time for relaxation and fun because the school year can be stressful coping with assignments, sports, weather, and other activities, but children need to be encouraged to read, to participate in activities such as we afford at the Center to be challenged, and to keep all the lobes in the brain active.

What groups or ages of children would you say are most susceptible to summer learning loss?

Very young children have remarkable memories and are less prone to forget than older children—they have less on their minds, but I would say that children of all ages can forget. Something I hear every time that I meet a mother is, “Focus—my child doesn’t focus!” Of course, that word has come from the teacher and there are consequences for not focusing. Today’s children are very involved in after school activities such as sports, and drama and art classes, which is all very healthy and important. But, during the school day, a child’s mind can wander and think about the role he or she is going to be playing in the game and, before you know it, he or she isn’t focusing. It takes maturity and a huge sense of responsibility to keep your eyes on the teacher or the book. Not everyone possesses this capacity, unfortunately.

What are some ways to prevent it and how can parents get involved?

Parents can be great motivators for learning by being a role model and by being positive and encouraging. Read the book with your child; have a discussion about the contents. Visit places of interest for which there wasn’t time during the school year. One of the most important things a parent can do is to converse with the child. Never talk down to him or her. Yesterday, I worked with a second grade boy and the word “trio” appeared in the selection. I asked him if he knew what a trio was and he said, “Three people.” What did that say to me? His parents have taught him through their conversation, probably inadvertently. Being positive, supportive, and encouraging leads to la greater interest in learning.

Are there any programs or resources offered at the Delany Center for Educational Enrichment that may be of interest to parents?

The purpose of the Center is to develop competent readers and writers and to encourage a love for reading. When one is reading, it is inevitable that some learning takes place. Dominic, a third grader, was completing a reading assignment about giraffes and the follow-up question was “What do you call a group of giraffes living together?” The answer was a herd who live on a savannah and Dominic took delight in asking everyone he met the question. It was amazing to me to find that very, very few knew the answer. It was just a reading assignment but full of information. At the Center we use literature to expose children to good books and, during that time, we have endless discussions at a level appropriate for that child. Writing is an integral part of the lesson with a focus on vocabulary—a good vocabulary. Children are encouraged to use the vocabulary in their writing in school and in their conversation with parents and teachers. There are numbers of games beside chess and Scrabble which focus on reading, history, and/or science, and I encourage the teachers to make use of those activities as a change of pace.

Any other pieces of advice for parents to help keep their kids sharp over summer vacation?

My strongest advice to parents is to be encouraging and to be positive. When a child carries out an activity, it might not meet your expectations, but I would suggest that the parent say “Thank you (for doing it)—let me show you how to make it even better!” Encouragement and challenge are two words that should be in every parent’s vocabulary. At the Center, we find tremendous growth in children who feel comfortable in making mistakes, asking questions, being challenged because they learn that we are here to support them.

When children grow up in a home where they see their parents reading and discussing situations that children should hear, they will take that as a given—this is what is expected and they will hopefully fall into line. It works most of the time.

To learn more about Sister M. St. John Delany and the Delany Center for Educational Enrichment, click here.