Students study at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at San Jose State University in this file photo.
Students study at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library at San Jose State University in this file photo.

    I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend six of our East Side Union High School District graduation ceremonies last month. In fact, I also had the opportunity to attend my niece’s high school graduation. It is an amazing time for our graduating seniors, their families and friends. However, for an educator who oversees a large high school district, summer can exacerbate the opportunity gap in two key areas: “Summer Melt” and “Extended Learning.”

    In terms of extending learning, Linda Darling-Hammond defines the educational opportunity gap as the accumulated difference to access in key educational resources — expert teachers, personalized learning, high quality curriculum materials and plentiful informational resources – support for learning at home and at school during the school year and beyond.

    Summer Melt refers to accepted, college-bound high school graduates who end up not going to college in the fall.

    Summer Melt

    It is not uncommon to find high school students who graduate with college acceptances in hand, not end up going to a four-year college right out of high school because school and district leaders figure it is a forgone conclusion that their students will show up to college.

    Summer can definitely be a time of significant attrition among college-intending seniors, especially for first-generation college students — who tend to be low income. Anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of students presumed to be headed to college fail to matriculate at any postsecondary institution in the fall following high school.

    First-generation college students have never seen anyone close to them go to college and, thus, have limited experience with the application process, financial aid process and may easily overlook key letters and emails colleges send over the summer asking students to complete financial aid forms, submit important health documents, sign up for orientation and more.

    One can imagine that if a student misses any one of these steps, the college will assume the student is not enrolling or will simply move to the waitlist in order to get the proper fees paid. Students may be too embarrassed to reach out for help or even realize that the missed deadlines can really set back a student’s college plans.

    For the past two years, the East Side Union High School District Education Foundation has supported students who have been accepted to San Jose State University under the Spartan East Side Promise. Our counselors work with SJSU counselors and have developed a summer curriculum to help with the transition from high school graduate to enrolling and attending SJSU in the fall.

    The Foundation also pays the intent to enroll deposit of $250 for those students who need the support. Students who qualify under the Spartan Promise have a higher percentage of returning for their second year then students outside the program.  Every student should be provided the support needed to get to college in the fall following their graduation.

    Extended Learning

    We know that students who start school at appropriate age grade levels end up progressing through school and graduating at a higher rate than students who lack the proper preparation at no fault of their own.

    Students living in poverty are exposed to approximately 32 million fewer words when they start school. This impacts their cognitive development, as well as social skills and executive function.

    The real question is what happens with students after school? There is a real difference between a student being supervised by an older sibling versus a student taking enrichment classes, attending Kumon tutoring, playing sports or learning an instrument.  All of these opportunities impact the achievement gap.

    Research is clear: students living in poverty regress in their learning over the summer more than students in more affluent areas. Couple that with unequal schooling — access to high quality teaching, rigorous courses like Advance Placement and supports that scaffold the learning — extended learning is critical in closing the achievement gap. Afterschool and summer enrichment opportunities are critical to stem the tide of summer lost learning.

    Kids need to be in school longer during the day and the school year; not just for academic reasons, but also for enrichment reasons and long-term success. K-12 schools offer summer school, however, for high school students, it is usually for credit recovery and not for enrichment. Affluent families are able to pay for their children to attend math and science camps, athletic camps and music camps. This is not the case for low-income children.

    In East Side, we offer both summer school for credit and grade recovery, as well as for enrichment, albeit there are less enrichment courses than we would like to offer. We partner with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) to provide Elevate Math and Science to allow students to take courses for advancement and/or that will allow students to take the next level course in the fall. SVEF also works with many of our feeder districts to help prepare students for higher-level math and science.

    The city of San Jose, through its SJ Learns program, provides summer grants that allows for K-8 districts to provide summer enrichment programs for students. This is part of Mayor Liccardo’s goal of supporting education in San Jose, which is an enrichment resource for transition to high school.

    If we truly want to improve the economic engine that drives Silicon Valley, we have to create opportunities for all students to extend their learning throughout the year. And when our students graduate from high school with an acceptance letter in hand, we must continue to follow them and support them until they officially land at their college of choice and begin taking courses in the fall of the year they graduate from school.

    We have no other choice.

    San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.

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