School is out and most of the nation's students are now in the full embrace of the summer hiatus. This means that they are already on their way to forgetting a lot of what they learned during the school year. According to the National Summer Learning Association, children experience summer learning loss if they do not stay academically engaged over the summer months. But we can interrupt this trend.
This past weekend, I was surrounded by more than 100 stakeholders (adults, teens and children) at Laney Community College in Oakland, California for a regional summit convened in partnership with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and EBONY. The summit centered the voices of young people and convened inspirational speakers, parent advocates, and educators toward the goal of elevating not just the prioritization of our children's high academic achievement, but also celebrating the concept of lifelong learning. At a time when Black people are disproportionately unemployed and under-represented among careers with high earning potential, it is more important than ever that we prepare our young people to be competitive by supporting their educational excellence. Here are 5 important ways that parents can battle summer learning loss:
1) Tell your story. Who are you? Thank you. Now, who are you? Okay, now that you have told me what you do, and possibly what titles and responsibilities you hold, who are you? The exercise of telling your story–the story of how you have engaged with the world is an important practice of presentational knowing. Not only does it surface important information about how we learn, it also reinforces for ourselves that our stories–our personal narratives as Black people–are valuable. Practice this exercise with your female and male children. Tell them your story and listen to theirs. You might be surprised by what you discover about yourself and about how your child engages herself or himself as a learner.
2) Read with your children. We know that reading to our children when they are young is an important way to promote literacy and improved reading comprehension; but often, our reading together tapers off when cell phones, iPods, and other electronic devices become more prominent in the lives of our children. This summer, take it back. Read A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown or discover Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan with your child. If you prefer to read your own material, create a quiet hour during which you role model reading for your children and encourage them to flip–or scroll–through the pages of their books while you read on your own. The point is to keep them reading–by any means necessary.
3) Co-construct a vision of excellence. You know what you want from your child. As parents, we want our children to be their best! But what does that mean? Does it mean the same thing for you that it means to your child? As a mother, I established a baseline for excellence with my daughters and it started with encouraging them to actively participate in the development of their goals and then was followed by the creation of a plan to achieve them. Over the years, I have learned that our best chance of supporting our children's learning emerges when we co-create a vision that engages their whole person in the articulation of what it means to be a "high achiever." There are many forms of intelligence and many ways of realizing a personal best…but having a vision and setting goals is an important first step. Over the years, I have engaged many young people in juvenile justice facilities who cannot provide an answer to the question of where they see themselves in five years. This is a signal that the adults in their lives have failed them. Encourage your child to dream, and then set them on a path to understanding that summer is a break from school–not from learning and working toward the realization of that dream.
4) Don't give up! Defiance is a normal part of adolescent development, and some of us need more than a second chance at opportunity. For some, the connection might be made on the 10th chance. This can be frustrating, but there is power in forgiveness–and few understand that expression of unconditional love better than a parent. The song "Joy in Repetition" by Prince is one of my favorites, largely because it reinforces the idea that we need to practice doing what we love. We need to practice love! When interpreted through a lens of redemption, the joy in our repetition can reinforce for our children that we're their first advocates–the ones who brought them into this world–and we're the ones who will stand with our partners (intimate or otherwise) to see that they successfully navigate life's challenges. If your child struggles with the idea of summer learning, resist the urge to throw up your hands in defeat. Our children are reflections of life's greatest beauty, our love, and they require our patience and constant encouragement.
5) Believe in the transformative power of education. When Frederick Douglass wrote his narrative and declared that he had written it himself, he was engaged in an act of defiance that showed many enslaved people of African descent that they could not only learn, but that their education would free them from bondage. From Phyllis Wheatley to Sara Breedlove (aka Madame CJ Walker), our people have embraced education as a path to freedom, and it remains an important protective factor against poverty and other forms of violence. We know that education is transformational. And so it is our responsibility to reinforce this message among our children.
Lastly, it is important to stay engaged in conversations about educational excellence in our homes, schools and districts. Stakeholder summits have been held throughout the country in partnership with the president's My Brother's Keeper initiative and on June 26, 2014 at 12pm ET, the White House Initiative on African American Educational Excellence will host a Twitter #AfAmEdChat on what Black girls need to succeed in schools. If you can, tune in to as many of these conversations as possible. In addition to gaining information about important resources and tools that may support your own child's learning, you'll benefit from knowing that you were part of a developing consciousness that unapologetically supports the academic success of our children.
Monique W. Morris, Ed.D. is an author, social justice scholar, and co-founder of the National Black Women's Justice Institute. For more information about Dr. Morris' work, visit her website or follow Dr. Morris on Twitter @MoniqueWMorris.