Summer school has a terrible stigma in this country. And, wrongfully so in my opinion. First, the whole concept of children having summers off is rooted in farm work. In today’s society, children are rarely needed in the summer months to help on the family farm. With the exception of maybe the Amish communities.

When I was a child in the 70s and 80s, summer school was very much equated with a character flaw. “He flunked and has to go to summer school!” I even remember my own Dad threatening me with this when my school performance was less than desirable.

children doing a parachute activity

Most of us love summer, right? But guess what? Summer slide is a real thing. And, as any self-aware adult can tell you, when you don’t practice a skill, any skill, you lose proficiency in that skill. Why then, would we chastise children for losing some academic skills over the summer?

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What is Summer School?

You know what a cake roll is, right? Well, for a while, I was making them frequently. And, I was damn good at it. For all the fall and winter holidays, my family and friends were always requesting my cake rolls. Then, I just got tired of it and didn’t make them for a few years.

When I made my first one after an extended break, it was a disaster. The batter was too thin, then I overbaked it and it didn’t roll well. The cream cheese filling was also lumpy. That’s what happens when you don’t practice something.

Why would we think that students who read and write and do math from September to June, then not from June through August, wouldn’t lose those skills? Of course they do!

Summer School vs. ESY

For the purposes of this article, I am talking about summer school and not ESY. ESY stands for Extended School Year and is a provision of IDEA.

ESY is only for IEP students. You can click on that hyperlink to get everything you need to know about ESY, qualifying criteria and so on.

But, not every IEP student gets ESY, nor does every IEP student need ESY. All students will benefit from summer school and for some IEP families, it may be just the option you’re seeking.

What is Summer School?

ESY is defined in IDEA. Summer school is not, and the term “summer school” is actually an official term in most states.

What I mean by that is this. First, I’m not saying all states because I have not researched all 50 states. But if you do a search on your state’s Department of Education and summer school, you’re not likely to find an official definition or set of programs for the term “summer school.”

Summer school is basically just what is says–it’s attending school-type-programming in the summer. Which, again, because of our nation’s history of giving kids off in the summer to help on family farms, is unusual.

Some states do actually have students attend year-round to prevent things like summer slide.

What is summer school for?

It’s for whatever the child needs. They may need extra practice or remediation in a subject area. The summer school student may need to stick to a schedule and routine. Or, they may want to explore a new subject area.

Below I have listed some common options for summer school.

What do you do in summer school?

Well, that depends on what type of summer school you attend.

Parents, contact your school district for summer school options. They should also be able to tell you who teaches summer school, what a daily schedule looks like and expectations.

Summer School Activities

Summer school doesn’t have to look like regular school. Sure, in some instances it will look the same. But it may not be 5 days a week, all day.

  • Remedial School Work or Credit Recovery: This is for students who, for whatever reason, need to do some remediation or credit recovery work or they will not progress on to the next grade. In my professional opinion, no child should ever fail. So, if a child is failing, special education evaluations should be done to determine if there is a learning disability or trauma. If your child is in need of remediation or credit recovery, hopefully the school will reach out and be proactive about this.
  • Advanced/Accelerated Programs: Some school districts offer this for gifted and advanced students. It may or may not even include some college credits. But, it provides advanced students with an opportunity to take and complete credits over the summer, thus opening up time in their schedule during the normal school year to take other classes. Your child might be interested in a culinary summer school or a French summer school, for example.
  • Migrant Education: My state is one of many that offers summer programming for students who are new to this country. This gives them extra support so that they can be successful during the regular school year. It’s similar to remediation, but targeted to the specific needs of migrant families.
  • Head Start Summer School: Much like the program listed above for migrant families, if a child is in Head Start or Even Start, they often offer summer programs.
  • Tutoring: Some districts offer occasional tutoring in specific subject areas. This is often just a day or two a week, for only an hour or two each time.
  • Summer Camps: Summer camps are huge these days. It was virtually unheard of when I was a child. These will mimic a school experience in that they often are all day, 5 days a week. But, they may be a general curriculum, or targeted to a specific interest or subject area such as sports. And, they often will be a mix of outdoors and indoors, with much recreational and down time for the students.
  • Options may include day or overnight programs, summer boarding school programs, week-long to summer-long sessions, or any combination of the above.

Yes, I know when you read that last one, you might be thinking “Summer camp is not summer school!” Sure, technically, it’s not.

But, you are sending your child some place away from home, usually 5 days a week. Even if it’s only a half-day camp, it has the “flavor” of being a school-like experience.

In fact, over the years, I’ve had many clients say “I don’t want to go to camp, it’s too much like school.”

child doing a craft project at summer school

Do you have to go to summer school?


If you are being told that your child must attend summer school in order to progress on to the next grade or to graduate, then you need to get all the details and make your decision.

Does summer school help?

Like anything else our kids do, it depends on the quality. There are great summer program options out there, and some are not so great.

Some kids do not do well with downtime or unstructured time, and need the structure of a day camp experience. Other kids do not know how to initiate and create social or creative experiences for themselves, and will benefit from a summer-school-like experience.

girl in orange shirt at summer camp

Summer school doesn’t have to be boring or like the regular school year.

How do I find a summer school?

Your starting point is going to be your school district. Check the website first. If summer school information isn’t there, email your district and ask. Or, call the district administrative offices and ask.

You should also talk with other parents, coaches, extra curricular instructors and maybe even your child’s pediatrician and ask what they know about summer school programs in your area.

Should my child attend Summer School?

To determine if an academic curriculum will enhance your child’s summer vacation, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does my child enjoy the entire concept of school? Kids who thrive in school and find nothing more exciting than a new idea or an accelerated curriculum are perfect candidates for summer educational programs.
  2. Does she want to pursue an interest that is not offered during the school year? Not every school district offers all the subject areas–especially specialty areas like a specific art form. One added benefit is the opportunity to meet young people and instructors who share these specialized interests.
  3. Does your child get bored easily and unable to find activities for themselves? Are you in a neighborhood where in most households, both parents work all day and the kids are not home? They may enjoy the social aspect of having all day, every day friends.
  4. Does your child need the structure? Some kids thrive on structure. Other kids need a lot of downtime to regroup and process and be prepared for the next school year. How are you, as a parent, about creating structure during the summer months?
  5. How does your community think of summer school? In some communities, attending summer school is a mark of shame; in others, a badge of honor. Are kids in your neighborhood who attend summer school thought of as “losers,” or are they considered proactive go-getters? And, what adults think of summer school may differ from what kids think. In a perfect world, no child would be made fun of for attending summer school (or anything, really). But we’re not there yet. Make sure you consider the social implications for your child.
  6. Have you asked your child? What do they think? To make the best decision and ensure success for your child, engage them in the decision-making process.

As the old saying goes, “when we know better, we do better.” We know that many kids need the structure and repetition of school-like programming in the summer.

The concept of summer school should be destigmatized, because it is such a benefit to so many students.

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