When school lets out, parents feel as much relief as their kids from hectic nights of homework and studying. But it’s just a matter of days before the first “I’m bored” is muttered. When that happens, many of us tell our kids to grab a book, knowing that the more reading they do during the summer, the more likely they are to avoid summer learning loss and be able to hit the ground running when they start school in the fall.
But according to First Book, while families in upper- and middle-income communities have an average of 13 books per child, low-income communities have one book for every 300 children. For children who are already falling behind, a lack of reading during the summer can set them back even further.
Reading isn’t the only enriching experience upper- and middle-income kids have over the summer – sports and arts camps, trips, and even hikes in the woods or walks on the beach are learning opportunities.
“Outdoor exploration and experiential learning are wonderful ways to open young minds for learning,” says Deborah Kneeland Keegan, Executive Director of For Kids Only Afterschool, which operates after-school and summer programs in seven school districts north of Boston. “Upper- and middle income children have enrichment opportunities that low-income children, whose families who are struggling to put food on the table, don’t get to experience.”
It’s no wonder that without books to read, specialty camps to attend, or road trips, low-income children can experience summer learning loss at a higher rate than their middle school peers. Research shows that over the course of one summer vacation, summer learning loss can create an approximate three-month achievement gap in reading skills. By middle school, this gap can grow up to two years.
“Summer learning loss is something that teachers and school leaders feel each year when students return to school in September,” says Emily Ullman, Director of District Partnerships for Salem Public Schools. “Summer is such a powerful place for kids to learn. It’s a chance to shine in the summer sun while authentically building fundamental learning skills like critical thinking, literacy, problem solving, and teamwork.”
That’s why United Way is bringing its nationally-recognized Summer Learning Collaborative to communities where third grade reading proficiency rates are far lower than the state average. In United Way’s targeted communities, 66% of children are not reading proficiently, compared to 44% of children not reading proficiently statewide. Third grade reading proficiency is widely seen as a key indicator for student’s future academic success.
In partnership with BOSTnet, the Summer Learning Collaborative integrates fun and engaging literacy activities into the daily schedule at 27 community-based summer program sites serving low income youth. The program is funded through individual donations, along with funding from Boston Financial Data Services, Epsilon, UPS and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council.
The good news? United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative is turning summer time into learning time for over 3,000 children in our region and is seeing impressive results. Last year, 82% of children participating avoided summer learning loss. What’s more, 65% of children gained literacy skills and 70% of children advanced from the lowest reading level.
Keegan, of For Kids Only Afterschool, says the school principals her organization works with now identify and refer students who they know will experience that summer slide if they don’t connect them to their program. “When the kids come back to school in the fall, they are ready to learn,” says Keegan. “The teachers see that.”
United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative will kick off later this month in Boston, Cambridge, Revere, Winthrop, Salem, Peabody, Somerville, Lowell, Lynn and Lawrence – and for the first time is expanding to three new communities: Dedham, Waltham and Chelsea.
In addition to BOSTnet and For Kids Only Afterschool, community partners include Camp Fire North Shore, Community Teamwork Inc., East Boston Social Centers, East End House, Ellis Memorial, Girls Inc. in Lynn, Girls Inc. Lowell, Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, Gregg House, Merrimack Valley YMCA, Somerville YMCA, Waltham Boys and Girls Club, YMCA of Greater Boston and YWCA of Greater Lawrence.