How students can fight ‘brain drain' this summer

It's a balancing act to stay sharp in the summer but also enjoy the break from school

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The "summer slide" is in full swing.

Also known as “brain drain,” learning loss is something families fight every summer as kids lose academic progress when they're not in school.

For parents, it’s a juggling act to help kids retain what they’ve learned in school without losing out on the fun and freedom of summer.

For some students like Rubi Torres of Thomas J. Rusk Middle School, it's tough when that momentum from the school year and the support from teachers comes to a halt.

"Because in school, you get support to do more stuff and do the things you want to,” she said. "[It’s important] to have more support from your family or teachers, where they talk to you or send you a message to see how you are doing and stuff like that."

Torres will count on her on-site coordinator from Communities in Schools of the Dallas Region to help her through the summer and next school year.

"During the summers, our students lose at least two months of school time and they're not receiving the education and the support that they're getting in the schools during the whole school year. We have busy parents who aren't able sometimes to make that time as well," said Pricsila Hernandez, the Communities in Schools on-site coordinator at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School.

The nonprofit places trained staff like Hernandez in high-need schools across North Texas to address behavioral and mental health, attendance, social services, and academics.

“So we focus on what is a community need, what is a family need. And we work with them and other community partners to provide those things that might prevent a student from excelling, attending school and reaching their potential,” said Charles Thompson III, Communities in Schools Chief External Engagement Officer. “We do that across 27 states and D.C. We are in well over 3,000 schools, and I'm very happy to say we've recently crossed the threshold where we're serving more than two million students now.”

In North Texas, CIS partners with 14 area school districts and has staff placed within 130 elementary, middle, and high school campuses. Approximately 10,000 students, considered “at-risk” by the Texas Education Agency, are being served in North Texas.

“These are students that are at risk of dropping out of school for academic reasons or in some cases, and in some cases, non-academic reasons,” said Adam D. Powell, Communities in Schools of the Dallas Region’s president and CEO. “In the state of Texas, roughly half of the public school students are considered to be at-risk.”

CIS has been working with parents and schools to meet students where they're at.

"We recognize our place in the relationship, so we're not trying to replace parents or caregivers," said Thompson. "It may be a personal intervention, helping out with the utility bill, or providing some other service that they need in order for their student to be able to excel."

Hernandez said the pandemic's interruption of education already put many of these kids at an academic disadvantage that they’re still recovering from.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the learning gaps this summer are biggest in math and reading. Kids can lose up to two months of the math they’ve learned. However, there are some things parents can do to ensure their child doesn’t fall behind over the summer.

"Some really good tips, I would say, is always encouraging our students to read and engage. A lot of board games are really important during this time just to keep their minds flowing, their brains going,” said Hernandez. “As well as finding resources throughout our community – there's a lot of different summer programs that are available that provide our students with full days of activities and it also provides parents with support who are working all the time, too.”

  • Center learning around fun -- That could include building or baking something together that uses math and measurements.
  • Look for opportunities in your community – President Biden's American Rescue Plan Act that was passed at the tail end of the pandemic is still providing money to organizations to combat learning loss in the summer. Check with organizations like the YMCA, local community centers and libraries to find several events geared toward summer learning for kids.
  • Make summer homework fun – if your child has assigned summer homework like a book assignment try making it fun as a family, like listening to the audiobook version and talking about it together.

Check out the National Summer Learning Association’s parent toolkit for more ideas, including online learning resources.

Communities in Schools also put together a summer newsletter packed with resources and tips for parents fighting the summer brain drain. There's one in every district they serve in North Texas. Click here to download a copy.

Experts also don’t want parents to forget to allow their children to take a breather this summer.

“Sometimes, as parents, we need to remind ourselves that, just like we need breaks and we need to slow down, so do our kids,”  Noel Candelaria, secretary treasurer of the National Education Association, told NBC’s TODAY.

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