05 03

Going back to school after summer vacation essay

going back to school after summer vacation essay

Welcome back: How to focus students on school after summer break

By: Pamela Martineau

Fall 2012

The lazy days of summer are over. The new school year is here, which means new school clothes, new books, new teachers, new friends and hopefully some renewed study habits.

As most educators and parents know, it’s not always easy to launch students back into the school year after a summer of lazing around the pool or spending hours surfing the Web. Come late August or early September, students need to swap the sometimes unbridled freedom of summer for the structure and discipline of a new school year.

The start of a new school year prompts school administrators, educators and parents to ask how they can more effectively engage students in learning and keep them motivated for success.

Researchers and educators offer an array of back-to-school tips on everything from how to improve students’ memory and retention to ways to make them feel welcome and safe at school. This year, schools across the nation also are implementing new federal nutritional guidelines for school lunch programs, which aim to keep kids’ bodies well fed so their minds can focus.

With an arsenal of new tactics that address student motivation, study skills and school climate, educators and administrators can greet the new school year with confidence and expect their students to do the same.


Educators who frown upon what they think is excessive testing in schools might want to rethink their position. New research from the Memory Lab at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, has found that testing—and in particular, daily short quizzes—is a potent way for students to retain information and learn how to more efficiently retrieve information.

“We usually think of tests as measuring instruments—dipsticks you put in students’ brains to see how much they know,” explains Henry L. Roediger III, professor of psychology at Washington University and director of its Memory Lab. “But tests not only measure information, they can change how students access information.”

Roediger says his studies show that students will remember information longer if they actively retrieve the information more frequently. The best way to enhance that skill, he says, is tests and quizzes, after which teachers give immediate feedback. His approach of frequent testing is called retrieval enhanced learning.

Roediger advises that at the beginning of a new school year, teachers might want to test students’ knowledge on information that should have been covered the previous year.

“See how they do and then give them elaborate feedback both on what they know and what they don’t know,” says Roediger.

Patrice Bain, who teaches sixth-grade social studies at Columbia Middle School in Columbia, Illinois, worked with Roediger when he studied the impact of frequent testing on students. As part of the study, Bain and a research assistant exposed students to the same information. When Bain was out of the room, the assistant quizzed some students on the information, asking them to click a handheld device to answer a question displayed on the screen. Those students were then given immediate feedback as to whether they answered the questions correctly, and then were told the correct answers. Other students did not get this immediate feedback and were not quizzed, but simply reread their textbooks or notes.

When the students were then tested on the covered material, those that had been quizzed and given immediate feedback did much better than the kids who simply reread the material. The students who were not quizzed and given feedback scored in the 80-85 percent range on testing of the material.

“That immediate feedback, that was the golden ticket that took the scores way up to the mid-90s,” Bain says. “This is powerful because it is something that every single teacher can do. ... The testing is a means to an end, not the end.”

Bain and Roediger stress that it is important to use these techniques at the beginning of the school year because it helps students to learn how they can best learn. “One of the words I teach them right at the beginning is meta-cognition,” says Bain.

Franklin Zaromb worked with Roediger at the Memory Lab and is now an associate research scientist at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey. Zaromb is working to develop more of these “low- or no-stakes assessment activities” as he calls them, which are a type of formative assessments.

Zaromb says research shows this form of “retrieval practice” significantly improves long-term retention and “can promote more meaningful or deep learning of subjects.”

“At the beginning of the year, if students and teachers get into the regular habit of trying to quiz themselves ... that may very well have a positive effect on how students transition into the school year,” says Zaromb.

Tiffany Smith-Simmons, principal at Mark Hopkins Elementary School in the Sacramento City Unified School District, says her school has adopted a system of formative assessments that is launched even before school starts.

Hopkins Elementary has embraced the DIBELS system of testing and instruction—Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Under the program, students are tested in literacy skills three times a year. The assessments gauge which areas of learning the kids need to focus on. Students are then grouped during language arts instruction according to the skills they need to enhance.

Smith-Simmons says her teachers prepare index cards for the start of the school year that detail for parents how their child scored on the assessment and the specific skills the child needs to work on at the beginning of the school year.

Hopkins Elementary, with 100 percent of its children on free and reduced-price lunch, holds a hot dog family dinner the week before school starts. Parents are given the index cards then and encouraged to work on the skills at home.

If parents do not attend the hot dog dinner, they are given the cards at the formal back-to-school night a week after school starts.
“We are saying—’Heads up, Mom. We are going to be working on beginning sounds,’“ says Smith-Simmons.

Smith-Simmons also stresses that the DIBELS system works well with the school’s efforts to engage parents in their child’s learning: “We really reach out to parents so they understand the importance of being true partners with us in terms of academic success.”


Dianna MacDonald, vice president for education at the California State PTA and a trustee with the Cloverdale Unified School District in Sonoma County, stresses activities that PTAs and school districts should encourage at the end of the school year to stem summer learning loss and ensure a better start to the next school year.

“We want to make sure we aren’t just re-engaging them at the get-go in the fall, but we want them engaged over the summer,” says MacDonald.

MacDonald adds that the first days and weeks of school are critical for PTAs to reach out to parents to bring them into the organization. Many PTAs hold social events or host tables at school registration sites. These outreach efforts help to bring parents into the organization, which keeps them engaged with their children’s education.

Smith-Simmons says at her school’s back-to-school night, she asks parents to take out their smart phones, go to Facebook and then “like” the school. That way, the parents are given another channel of communication informing them of school events and issues throughout the year.

Hopkins Elementary School also invites community groups, such as the mentoring program 100 Black Men of America Inc., to its back-to-school night bringing community resources to the campus to help kids thrive.


While many kids often are excited about heading back to school in the fall, some students dread it, and not just because they don’t like homework. Kids who have been bullied or feel excluded at school may fear returning to campus. Many school counselors and educators work hard to make school a more welcoming place before the first bell even rings.

Morgan Wallace, a teacher at Lincoln High School in the San Francisco Unified School District, runs the school’s Jump Start program. The program is based on a high school transition program called Link Crew by the Boomerang Project. The program trains older students to mentor younger students. Wallace says the mentors are trained before the start of school. A key part of the program is the freshman orientation, which is held a day before school starts.

“It really is focused on making them as comfortable as they can be on that first day of school,” says Wallace. “They also get to meet some other freshmen who will be in their advisory home room. … They show up that first day and they have their bearings.”

Wallace says that before school starts, counselors at his school also meet with counselors from the middle schools that feed into the high school. They can talk about kids’ specific issues so high school counselors are aware of possible challenges.

“This way they don’t have to start from scratch to figure out what is going on with a kid,” says Wallace.

Governance teams can also help get the school year off on the right foot by making sure all students feel welcome—including those new to the campus and those who too often bear the brunt of bullying. They can spread the message through handbooks, school websites, school assemblies, classroom notices and other media; administrators should clearly articulate policies and procedures regarding bullying, harassment and violence, letting students know how and where to report incidents. As CSBA’s complimentary guidebook “Safe Schools: Strategies for Governing Boards to Ensure Student Success” notes: “Providing a safe school environment that ensures both the physical and emotional safety of students creates the conditions necessary to foster academic achievement.”

The book, available for free download from CSBA’s website, also explores the board’s role, from setting direction, establishing effective organizational structures and providing support for implementation to holding the system accountable and engaging in community leadership and advocacy.


There is another key factor in student success: motivation. Without motivation and student buy-in to their studies, kids languish.

Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober, of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., have studied student motivation and have found that it has four key components which students should feel at some level in order to be motivated to complete a task or stay engaged. The components are: competence, autonomy/control, interest/value and relatedness.

“The more of these dimensions a strategy or program could touch on, the more motivating it would be,” says Usher.

Inquiry-based learning, where students pick a topic of interest and guide their own project, is a powerful motivator, the researchers found, because it hits on many of the components.

“It makes the students feel as though they had more autonomy over the project,” says Usher. If students work as a team on a project, they also feel a sense of relatedness. They will likely experience a greater degree of competence and interest, since they are pursuing a topic area of their choice.

It may seem obvious, but it is important not to forget that having a wide range of extra-curricular activities at a school also serves to create community and relatedness and allows kids another area of competence.

Usher cited a chess club league in middle schools in Baltimore that has had a powerful impact on kids. The program is run after school and gives many students a “reason to come to school,” says Usher: “They had a group where they felt support.”

Usher and her research partner Kober call motivation the “missing part of school reform.” They believe more attention needs to be paid to the hard-to-nail-down trait. Kober also warns educators that they need to proceed with caution when developing reward systems for kids. Studies have found that providing extrinsic rewards for things that kids already like to do—such as art—can actually decrease motivation once the reward is withdrawn.


New nutritional guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture also will follow students to school this fall. Not since 1994 have federal school lunch guidelines been updated. The new rules have school district food service directors excited—and busy—as they work to develop new signs and educational programs to tell kids about the new rules and about good nutrition in general.

“If a child is not nourished, they are not going to learn,” says Brenda Robinson, director of food services for the Bakersfield City School District. “And we are teaching them things they need for lifelong health.”

Under the new USDA guidelines, students must choose either a fruit or vegetable with their main course of school lunch. Whole milk is not allowed; kids are to be offered low-fat or skim milk. Districts also must increase whole grains in their menus.

Bakersfield CSD is rolling out the new nutritional guidelines by touting the Five Star Program. Each required food group will be represented by a colored star—red for grains, for example, blue for dairy, and green for veggies. The school lunch trays will have stars on them where the appropriate food should be placed. And the food available to kids will have a colored star next to it in the lunch line, indicating it represents that specific food group.

Several Bakersfield schools also are participating in a fresh fruit and veggie program where fruits and vegetable snacks are brought into students’ classrooms three times a week.

“We’re having more of our children try the product” because they were introduced to them in the classroom, Robinson says.

The idea behind the school lunch program is that nourished bodies help make nourished minds. This year, educators have many tools available to them to nourish the whole student—whether it be their curiosity, sense of community, intellect or emotions.


Of course, no back-to-school story in recent years can go without referencing the new pertussis vaccination requirements enacted by the state in 2010. Districts need to do extra messaging to remind parents that their incoming seventh graders must provide proof of vaccination (or provide an exemption based on personal beliefs) against whooping cough.

Many districts began that messaging with outgoing sixth-graders and have continued on websites and through newsletters to get the word out to the families of incoming seventh-graders. In some districts, students who show up without proof of immunization will even be denied access to their class schedules until they provide it.

So there’s a checklist of sorts: testing, engaging, motivating, nourishing, and covering … all the bases. OK, then, let the school year begin!

Pamela Martineau is a frequent contributor to California Schools.

going back to school after summer vacation essay


  1. Jetobed

    I got my way and got to see my man after school

  2. Cowolabeyo

    For the record, I believe you are a fighter and needed. Sat Trump rally NJ. After school NYT Rally FKNews.

  3. Doxotoxameyo

    Me after school: I"ll take a quick 10-15 minute nap. Me waking up at 6:20: What year is it?

  4. Rarokoxexonon

    The school did nothing wrong. Even after a teacher told him to put the shitty clock away, he kept it out and it started ringing in class.

  5. Rikejegazoc

    There are no kids in the photo for 1. Could be after school wearing it. 2 ) doesn"t look real anyway.

  6. Madopej

    It really is. One kid just wanted to shoot some b-ball after school. Then some guys beat him up and his mom sent him to live in Bel Air.

  7. Yuyikatequruje


  8. Hapavepob

    After 11 years of schooling you still expect to be spoon feed in after school life? I die

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