By ERIN HEGARTY Posted: Dec 02, 2019
A new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Wallace Foundation, takes a deep dive into the summer months, the opportunities they can provide for youth, and the best ways to connect with those youth who have the greatest need for those opportunities. “Shaping Summertime Experiences: Opportunities to Promote Healthy Development and Well-Being for Children and Youth” considers the impact of summertime experiences on the four domains of well-being for young people: academic learning; social and emotional development; physical and mental health; and safety. The report highlights the profound impact that the summer learning space can have for youth and offers key recommendations to promote increased access and quality.
Summer learning programs can help to close gaps in developmental and academic outcomes. The achievement gap between students from lower-income and higher-income families has grown by 40 percent in 30 years. By providing space for both structured and unstructured activities and enrichment, the report finds, summer learning programs are positioned to positively impact outcomes for youth, including supporting improved academic performance, promoting the development of social and emotional competencies, and reducing risky behaviors.
A lack of availability of summer experiences can further exacerbate existing inequities. Oftentimes, access to these experiences are dependent on families’ financial status. Furthermore, the summer can create additional barriers for families who rely on the consistency of vital resources during the school year, such as healthy meals, health care, academic support, and supervision. The report therefore recommends a specific focus on reaching low-income and underserved communities.
Individual community needs must be on the forefront of planning and execution. By focusing on the importance of social contexts, which create both barriers and opportunities for communities, one can create programming that specifically utilizes the assets and addresses the priorities of the community in which one is working.
Collaboration is an essential aspect of effectively delivering programming. The report takes a systems approach to analyzing the effectiveness of summer learning programs and how to increase access to these programs. This approach emphasizes the connectedness of the different agents at play in children and families’ lives and the ways in which partners can work together to contribute to the success of their communities. This means involving partners from both the private and public sectors and increasing investment at all level of government. The report specifically calls out governors and mayors; federal and state government agencies; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; federal, state, and city officials; nongovernmental organizations; and the business community, highlighting recommendations for the role that they can each play in improving availability, access, and equity in summer learning programs.
Data is key in making the case for and understanding how to best implement summer programming. The report also specifically underscores the importance of the collection and use of data, citing the lack of existing effective data systems. It recommends that local governments establish quality management systems (QMS) that can help systematically assess, develop, and improve summertime programming. The report also highlights the need to support the collection of data on children and youth’s experiences during the summer months and to share this data across systems when possible.