When you think of summer break, what comes to mind? Maybe you associate summer with travel or camps that allow you to explore extracurricular interests. You might think of family road trips to the beach or soccer camp with your friends. Unfortunately, this is not the meaning of summer for everyone. For low-income students, in fact, summer can be a real struggle. Have you heard of a phenomenon called “summer learning loss”? Studies show that it is a leading factor in the achievement gap between lower and higher income students. Summer break puts low income students behind their peers academically and impacts long term success with college and careers. In addition to causing challenges in the classroom, this time when schools are out of session creates problems with getting their physical needs met. Some students rely on the healthy meals provided at school and the opportunity to be in a safe environment during the week. This is a serious problem.
Here are a few specifics to put this into perspective:
- We have more than 25 million low-income public school students in the US.
- One 2011 study concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling during a typical summer break. The impact is largely concentrated among low-income students.
- Low income students often start school behind their middle class peers and continue to fall further behind each summer.
- By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged youth are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.
- One study estimates that only 4% of youth from the lowest income bracket participate in summer camps, as compared to 18% of the highest income youth.
- Six out of every seven students who receive free- and reduced-price lunches lose access to them when school lets out.
In a 2013 Slate.com article, Matthew Yglesias sums it up with this statement, “The basic reality is that parents’ ability to provide enriching summer activities for their children is going to be sharply constrained by income. Working-class single moms in urban neighborhoods—exactly the kind of parents whose kids tend to have the most problems in school—are put in a nearly impossible situation by summer vacation.”
The good news is that we’re starting to take notice and take action to fill the gap. A source from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education says, “With high-profile champions like President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan, summer learning is beginning to get the attention it deserves – and it’s starting to take a new shape.” Rather than focusing on remedial study programs, summer learning is being re-envisioned to include more hands-on learning, creative projects, sports, skill-building and relational curriculum. According to the article, this fresh perspective comes from “a strong desire to use summers more strategically as a natural time of year to pilot innovate partnership, teaching and assessment strategies while helping youth living in poverty to get a leg up on their middle class peers.” They see summer as opportunity to develop more dynamic, non-traditional programs.
This trend is encouraging. A quick online search revealed a wide array of summer programming geared toward low-income students across the country. A few highlights include the L.A. KIDS program, through the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation department. Their mission is youth development in low-income areas. They strive to “provide valuable programs and nutrition in a well-supervised, safe, structured and nurturing environment”. They have more than 100 recreation centers in the greater Los Angeles area offering a summer sports academy that includes free transportation and lunch. The Texas Department of Agriculture organizes a Summer Feeding Program to provide nutritious and free meals to children 18 and younger during the summer months. School districts and other eligible sponsors may serve as summer feeding program sites.
Social workers at Communities in Schools of Greater Tarrant County are also doing their part. Several schools put on a week-long summer camp for their students. They are also delivering packets to parents during home visits with information on summer camps, summer feeding programs, swimming safety tips and fun, free summer activities in the area or distributing flyers and hygiene kits or passing out scholarship applications for summer school. CIS is joining efforts across the country to provide support, educational enrichment and food during the summer for kids who wouldn’t have access to these resources otherwise.