Make Summer a Season of Learning

Guest post by Sarah Pitcock.

Today is National Summer Learning Day, an advocacy day led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, healthy, and safe every summer.

This year, we’re not only celebrating summer learning today, on June 19th, we’re making summer a season of learning. We hope that if you haven’t already, you will visit www.summerlearningday.com to take the pledge to keep kids learning and place your program or event on the map to help families locate you.

NSLA continues to advocate for summer as a key part of the expanded learning strategy to close achievement and opportunities gaps in communities across the country, ensuring that all youth have a path to success in education, and ultimately in life.

Providence students interact with local marine life at the Biomes Marine Biology Center.

Providence students interact
with local marine life at the Biomes Marine Biology Center.

Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities put our nation’s youth at risk for falling behind – year after year – in core subjects like math and reading. These losses over the summer are cumulative and contribute significantly to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids.

Many kinds of high-quality learning opportunities during the summer can make a difference in stemming learning loss. These opportunities can be voluntary or mandatory, at school, community organizations, or even at home. And we know that “Quality” is well-defined and rooted in research. A major study from the RAND Corporation shows that individualized academic instruction, parental involvement, and smaller class sizes are a few components of high-quality programs that are making a difference.

In addition, school- and community-based programs often provide access to critical resources that support health and nutrition, with many serving as feeding sites for the federal summer meals program. Summer meals ensure that low-income students who rely on subsidized meals during the school year do not go hungry in the summer, and draw students to attend learning and enrichment programs.

Let’s not forget, that summer is also a critical time for teens. Summer learning programs can provide essential college and career preparation opportunities focused on older youth like employment and volunteer opportunities throughout the community.

At NSLA, we continue to develop and provide resources around strengthening and expanding summer learning programs in communities. With support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, our new report, Accelerating Achievement Through Summer Learning is an essential resource for program providers, education leaders, policymakers, and funders who are making important decisions around summer learning programs as a way to accelerate student achievement. The report profiles thirteen diverse replicable summer learning program models, and demonstrates how these programs address a variety of K-12 education priorities to deliver strong outcomes for children, youth, and educators.

For example, systems like the Boston Summer Learning Project and the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) work closely with community organizations to close opportunity and achievement gaps by providing students with hands-on, engaging summer learning opportunities. These organizations are seeing results:

Boston students learn about healthy eating through caring for a community garden.

Boston students learn about healthy eating through caring for a community garden.

  • A 2013 evaluation from the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at Wellesley College found that Boston Summer Learning Project students’ English language arts skills improved by 15 percent over the course of the summer, while math skills improved 19 percent.
  • In Providence, PASA’s Summer Scholars showed improvement in critical thinking skills, maintained their math levels in alignment with Common Core Standards and were more engaged in learning and ready to return to school in the fall.

Across the country, we’re seeing many states and cities embrace summer learning. Together, we can ensure that students have the time and resources to engage in meaningful learning after the bell rings, all year long.

Sarah Pitcock is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Summer Learning Association.

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