Summer Fun + Learning = New Vision for Summer Programs
Summer learning loss has become a hot topic as evidence of its impact grows. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement. And children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. For many their health suffers as they gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break.
Afterschool programs are offering solutions to summer learning loss by re-envisioning programs to incorporate academic enrichment along with recreation. They provide important options for children who have few other outlets for summer activity. Jeff Smink, Vice President for Policy at the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), recently spoke to NJSACC’s Advisory Board about summer learning. Much of this article is adapted from NSLA’s recent commentary in Education Week.
Imagine, a summer school program that would provide accelerated and engaging instruction in the morning, fresh local food for breakfast and lunch, and afternoon enrichment activities in which students could choose to canoe down the Mississippi River, create their own video games, or display self-made projects in local museums.
Recently many educators, politicians, and advocates have begun to view summer as a time of great potential for closing achievement gaps through innovative programming. This notion challenges the value of a traditional, remedial model of summer school, and embraces instead a seamless blend of core academic learning and hands-on enrichment activities that shows much greater promise for supporting and engaging students.
President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with many state and local leaders, have expressed support for this new vision, fueling the momentum for change. Secretary Duncan has described summer learning loss as "devastating, and calls summer programs one of the best investments states and districts can make.
In an age of research-based strategies and data-driven accountability, these programs are remarkably well-positioned for increased investment, even in the current economic climate. Since 1906, there have been at least 39 empirical studies that have found evidence of a pattern of summer learning loss, particularly for low-income youths. One of the most compelling of these, a study led by Karl L. Alexander of Johns Hopkins University, demonstrates the impact of this loss on the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers.
Alexander’s study, which tracked students in Baltimore, beginning in 1982, found that low-income elementary school students lost ground in reading each summer, compared with their higher-income peers, who made progress. By the time the students reached 9th grade, the accumulated learning loss accounted for two-thirds of the achievement gap between the groups, and played a significant role in whether students graduated from high school and went on to college.
Pittsburgh, PA Responds to the Challenge
Pittsburgh is investing more than $10 million in Title I funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support its Summer Dreamers Academy, a free, comprehensive program open to all middle school students in the district. In addition to literacy instruction, the program includes a variety of enrichment activities provided by 27 community partners. The Pittsburgh academy, designed to improve academic achievement, student engagement, and graduation rates, is part of a growing trend toward using summer learning opportunities as part of a strategy for comprehensive high school reform. Cities like Cincinnati, Boston and Baltimore are making similar investments.
Stay Tuned to Learn about Summer Learning
in New Jersey
Community organizations, schools, and municipalities throughout New Jersey are already seeing success in summer learning.
- The City of New Brunswick serves 1,200 kids in a citywide summer program
- Roselle NJ offers a summer program that runs from 7 AM to 7 PM to accommodate working parents.
- The NJ Department of Education requires all new 21st Century Community Learning Center grantees to offer summer programming.
During the coming months, NJ Afterschool Action will highlight successful summer learning initiatives in New Jersey. Watch your inbox for innovative programs and strategies to promote summer learning in the garden state.