By Austin Gage, California Black Media
As students and parents contemplate how best to be prepared for school after the summer break, engaging in summer education offers a way to recover from the trauma and learning loss caused by the pandemic. To address this vitally important issue, the U.S. Department of Education held a virtual roundtable on July 27th titled “Summer F.U.N. for Black Students: Families Understanding and Nurturing Learning at Home”.
Hosted by Alexis Holmes, Policy Manager at the National Education Association, the virtual panel focused on how Black families can support and provide rich summer learning experiences for their children.
The roundtable participants were Dr. Rosiline Floyd, Chief of Staff at Normandy Schools Collaborative; Kier Gaines, licensed therapist and Job Placement Specialist at District of Columbia Public Schools; Frances Frost, education advocate and the first Family Ambassador at the Department of Education; and Josh Davis, vice president of policy and partnerships at StriveTogether.
The advice provided by the panel stressed engagement of Black students during the summer as valuable to academic success in the fall and for the students’ futures.
Speaking to the roundtable audience, Holmes shared her appreciation with everyone present for understanding the importance of the topic. “We appreciate you taking the time to be here today to talk about something so important, and that is making sure that our students continue to have the out-of-school/summer experiences that they need to support them and to get them ready for a very successful and rich fall and back to school season,” Holmes said.
The panel maintained that Black families must provide support to their children due to its lasting impact on their educational future. Emphasizing this point, Floyd and Davis both agreed that because Black and other marginalized students face steeper challenges in their journeys for higher education, these obstacles must be dealt with efficiently and effectively.
“I started out as an engineer at Purdue, and I noticed that students of color didn’t have the resources that I had to make it to a Division I university, so I started researching why and a lot of what I found was the education level that they were getting inside the schools. They changed the standards to get into universities, but schools didn’t even offer some of the classes that students needed to be able to enroll in universities,” said Floyd.
When asked to identify resources and what they can mean to Black communities, Davis said “When I think about resources, it is the non-financial but oftentimes more important social and political capital that Black families and children do not have with equitable or equal access to those things other communities have that allow them to thrive.”
Understanding the obstacles standing in the way of Black students’ academic potential success was the first step the panelists explored. Next, they discussed strategies to academically engage the students during the summer.
“Try to find that sweet spot in between what some of the children are naturally good at and what they like to do, help them understand that those two things sometimes are two completely different things and then just allow an exploratory nature in introducing them to different options that they might not have had otherwise. Putting kids in the driver’s seat seems to be a really remarkable strategy,” Gaines said.
Regarding specific teaching strategies, Gaines shared that, “What has been the most effective for me in the program that I’ve been in charge of is finding ways to integrate social media and technology into what you’ve already been doing. Also allow time for breaks. ‘Hey y’all, we are going to work for an hour and then we’ll take a 15-minute break; you can be on your phone, you can go chill, you can do whatever you want but promptly I want us to be back in and back ready.’”
Frost shared a specific strategy of her own regarding making a summer education system effective. “Make sure that your program is a welcoming environment. That’s one of the standards that we have as National PTA [National Parent Teacher Association]. It is summertime, they have been in school for 180 days, they want to do everything but be in school so make it something that they want to come to and things they want to learn,” said Frost.
The main message the roundtable panelists conveyed to the audience was Black families supporting their children was key to academic success.
“Our research shows that children who have parents who are engaged are more likely to show up to school, they are more likely to graduate, they are more likely to be successful in school because you are encouraging your child, you are in contact with their teacher, you understand what’s going on,” Frost said.