By Saskia Nilsen, M.A. Learning Specialist and RITES advocate
Extended School Year (ESY) summer programs that you pay for are an important investment in your child’s future, especially for those with complex learning profiles.
While many schools offer ESY, they may not be individualized, intensive, or focused enough for a struggling student. (For this reason, even though both my kids qualify for ESY services, both will be attending summer programs specifically designed to meet their profiles.) For example, my daughter who is dyslexic, will receive much better Orton-Gillingham intervention from a teacher highly trained and experienced in teaching dyslexics for five days a week over five weeks, versus the two days a week for a smaller amount of time that my local school district offers. Here are the top five reasons why I encourage you to consider a private program for your child this summer:
- Highly-Trained Professionals
Private academic programs can have greater access to the best local teachers with the appropriate specializations, and give your child access to experts with whom they might not otherwise have contact. While most special-needs teachers have training in various learning profiles, private summer programs offer teachers who are focused on and passionate about helping your child overcome his or her challenges, and have spent years honing strategies to help your child learn best, given the unique way his or her brain works. These experts often have received more recent training and are up-to-date with the latest professional development and research on your child’s profile.
- Intensive Intervention
Intensive intervention means not just a review of what was covered in the previous year, but targeted assessment of your child’s areas of weakness and a program specifically designed to address them in a way that fits your child’s learning challenges. (Two days a week with a new teacher in a new classroom with kids that have all kinds of challenges for 5 to 6 weeks does not make for intensive intervention.) Frankly, I think most kids would get more out of an hour a week with a tutor trained to address their specific needs than most existing summer school district programs. Many private summer programs will take the time to get to know your child to make the most of the time they spend with them. Whether a week focusing on writing skills or a summer-long course, the level of intervention received in these programs is designed to help your child makes strides, not just review.
- Profile Oriented
Whether it’s an Autism Project camp that focuses on social skills, or academic tutoring in an area in which your child has been struggling, summer is a great time to focus in on addressing any specific goals that your child has struggled to meet. Profile-oriented programs with small-group or one-to-one attention make all the difference in helping students to review what was covered the previous year and get a leg up on the next school year. The difference between a class with 20 different profiles and a class where a teacher can target the strategies for the unique profile’s brain functioning is huge. Imagine learning how to do handwriting as the only lefty in a class of righties – all the directions are backwards for you, so you have to do extra work to have a successful outcome. Then imagine learning to write with a class full of lefties. The success a student can have, given the instruction targeted for their profile, can be astounding.
- Critical Junctures
Summer is a crucial time to avoid “brain drain,” otherwise known as the loss of skills or knowledge through lack of use. Brain drain is often significantly worse for kids with learning differences, according to the research, because they had not fully mastered the skill to begin with or because many profiles struggle with working memory. For example, my daughter is transitioning from the learning-to-read phase of elementary school to the read-to-learn grade levels. Since she is already a struggling reader, this summer will be key time spent reviewing the reading skills that she struggles with, like phonics, and learning strategies for how to cope with subject-specific reading next year. Spending a large chunk of her summer in appropriate programming for her profile will make a crucial difference, as opposed to if she had spent two days a week in a general ESY program, or nothing at all, and is critical at this crucial academic transition time. It is the difference between her continuing to be behind her peers constantly, versus learning how to keep up and thrive.
Sometimes a break from the same old faces and the same old approaches is exactly what is needed to give your child the shot of self-confidence he or she needs to tackle yet another uphill battle of a new school year. Having a teacher who gets them and lets them in on the secret strategies that work for their profile can reboot learners who have lost the love of learning. As a parent, having a teacher who really knows what my child struggles with gives me the perspective of how to help her at home and how to communicate with the school to get her the supports she needs. Year after year, I have seen students who participate in local, private summer academic programs gain the self-confidence from accomplishing a skill that they thought was out of their reach. It is clearly the most powerful gift you can give a struggling learner.
The way I see it, investing the money that I would spend on a pool membership or traditional summer camps is well spent on ensuring my child’s future academic success. Many programs offer financial aid or scholarships if you apply early enough. Word-of-mouth is a great way to hear about local programs for kids with specific learning profiles, or you can do an Internet search, using a variety of keywords. I know I am looking forward to having the teaching team providing my daughter’s private summer program this year give me a second opinion about my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses, and what will help her be successful next year.