MY TURN By James Burger

| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:27

The Boston Red Sox and the drive to read and learn Summer preparation for the new school year The “summer slip” is a well documented phenomenon that affects many students. Skills that seemed to be mastered in June are difficult to retrieve once classes begin in September. Once school is out, the routines change, new adventures are possible, and the discipline of regular study disappears. That exquisite feeling of a long vacation from the rigors of school is a strong memory. I loved my summers of swimming at the local pool, playing with friends, riding my bike and going to sleep away camp. My experiences over the summer provided some valuable lessons about making new friends, being responsible for my belongings, learning survival skills and conquering fears. Those important life lessons served me well during my years in school and long afterwards. However, those summer lessons rarely involved topics or skills that would increase the marks on my report card in the fall. The lessons of procrastinations To fight the “summer slip,” some schools assign specific books to sustain reading or math skills. In my experience, the noble intentions of the early summer often fade into guilt during the last weeks of August, as it becomes apparent that few of the exercises have been completed. The same may be said for the summer reading books that the school assigned. I recall a desperate search for that last book, the one that interested me the least, in the final few days of vacation. Even worse, I discovered that the teacher had asked for a July letter from me describing how I liked the book. My difficulty completing my summer work that year taught me a valuable lesson about procrastination and the incremental nature of deferred pain. For some students, a formal routine of tutoring helps to reinforce important skills that were not completely mastered at the end of the year and also helps to provide a preview of the work the student will face in September. I often recommend to parents whose children have a hard time getting off to a good start in September a short series of tutoring sessions focused on those first two or three weeks of school. A sense of familiarity with the work builds confidence that often sets the pattern for the rest of the year. I am delighted to see that more and more students are enjoying their summer reading and are choosing to read well beyond the required list. Students who read deeply and broadly develop funds of knowledge that serve them well in the traditional disciplines of school. In addition, I find that their scores on standardized tests have a very direct correlation to the amount and the quality of the books they have read on their own. Reading interests that rise above the ‘Green Monster’ Forcing a child to read at any time usually has a negative result. The trick is to find those books that are of high interest to the child. Once a child is excited about reading, he or she will often read well above the reading level a teacher has recorded. The drive to learn more and make sense of the world is powerful and, if nurtured well, can lead to significant academic achievement. I recall one student who, as a Boston Red Sox fan, read everything he could about his favorite team. He read the sports pages of The New York Times, biographies of his favorite current players and several histories of the team. His parents were worried that he was not reading anything else and asked if I had any advice about broadening his horizons. I was at a loss as to what advice might work, but finally suggested they get him a subscription to Sports Illustrated, the regular, not the children’s, version. The Red Sox were in contention that year and were featured regularly. However, some of the other articles piqued the boy’s interest and his reading took on a broader scope. His reading speed and comprehension improved to the point that when he was assigned books or articles that were not of high interest for him, he was able to read them without laboring as much as he had in the past. He is still a Red Sox fan, but his reading interests have gone far beyond the “Green Monster.” Summer is a time of rest and rejuvenation. It is also a time to grow and learn. Each child and each family is different and therefore the choice of a summer academic experience for one may be just as appropriate as a summer of non-academic camp for another. But reading interesting and worthwhile books should be a part of that summer experience for all. It is the best way for students and adults to avoid the “summer slip.” Jim Burger is headmaster of Tuxedo Park School, one of the oldest independent schools in the country specializing in pre-secondary education, with students from Orange and Rockland counties in New York and from Bergen and Passaic counties in New Jersey. He has been the headmaster at the school for 17 years.