Summer school isn't just for struggling students.
The summer break can be a time for nourishing students' interests and establishing new ones, educators say. One example is the Gifted and Talented Institute, a series of summer classes offered by Burnsville-Eagan-Savage community education in collaboration with other southern Twin Cities-area school districts.
An alumnus of the institute, Rishabh Mishra, has long been a fan of summer school.
"It's a promise that you can learn an incredible amount of information in a short period of time," said Mishra, who recently graduated from Prior Lake High School and will enter the University of Minnesota this fall as a junior, more than halfway to a computer science degree.
Mishra spent many of his summer days learning about computers at the institute, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. This summer, he returned to Eagle Ridge Junior High in Savage not as a student, but as a computer programming instructor.
"It's a time to explore," said Lori Haggerty, who helps coordinate the Burnsville program. "It helps enhance learning in fun ways so students don't lose skills."
Institutions such as the Minnesota Zoo, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Science Museum of Minnesota also offer classes, camps and other programming.
The loss of skills over the summer, what educators call "summer slide," is one of the biggest challenges facing students and teachers, said Gary Huggins, CEO of the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association.
Students who sit idle over the summer lose, on average, two months of grade-level math skills, Huggins said. Low-income students can lose more than that, while more affluent students often make slight gains.
Two-thirds of teachers the institute surveyed say they spend up to a month re-teaching skills that students lose over break, he said.
The need to relearn skills and concepts contributes directly to the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their affluent and white counterparts.
"We will never close achievement gaps if we don't address summer learning loss," Huggins said.
Enrollment in the Burnsville-Savage Eagan gifted summer program has held strong at about 300 students, said Cindy Check, the institute's coordinator. Yet, only a handful of participants take advantage of scholarships intended to ease the cost for low-income families.
Huggins said about 14 million students nationwide now attend some type of summer school or camp with an education focus. Another 24 million students would attend programs if they were available and accessible, he said.