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Daisy Estrada, a tutor at the Santa Maria Boys & Girls Club, flipped a set of multiplication flash cards Friday and led a group of five students in a game to quickly solve the problem on each card.

She said the quickest student to respond correctly would be awarded club bucks and allowed to pick a prize.

The activity is one of many that nonprofit workers and educators say are available for students during the winter break to keep their minds fresh.

Officials say encouraging reading and testing comprehension are the best ways to ensure that students continue to learn when they have time off.

Schools throughout the Santa Maria Valley closed doors for what is in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District a more than four-week break during the winter holiday season.

But administrators say time away from school does not have to equate to time away from learning.

Susan Salcido, deputy superintendent of the Santa Barbara County Education Office, said parents should read to their children and ask students questions about what they observe in nature.

“It’s always important for parents to engage in meaningful and deep conversation with their kids,” she said. “And vacation time is often a great time when there’s more time at home.”

Maggie White, a spokeswoman for the Santa Maria-Bonita district, said students in the district have a longer winter break but a shorter summer break because some families travel for work outside of the area during the winter season when they cannot find field work in Santa Maria.

“And so we don’t want the kids to be missing school,” she said.

Students in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District start the winter/spring semester Jan. 22. Guadalupe and Orcutt schools open the week of Jan. 13, and students in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District return to school Jan. 8.

Holly Edds, assistant superintendent for curriculum in the Orcutt district, said Orcutt schools offer a computer-based Compass Learning program so students can complete language arts and math activities tailored to their individual needs any time.

“It creates a path based on an assessment that students take within the district,” she said.

Students have an opportunity each week of winter break to complete at least 20 minutes of language arts and 90 minutes of math activities to be entered in a drawing to win prizes.

Edds added that parents can contribute to student learning by encouraging their children to read and asking comprehension questions like: “‘What’s happening in the story’ and ‘What do you think will happen next?’”

“The number one recommendation I would have is just read,” she said.

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