Summer learning loss occurs when children and youth are not actively engaged in high-quality learning opportunities between school terms. Poor and minority children experience this disproportionately as they are less likely than their better-resourced peers to have educational opportunities such as summer camp, educational trips or even visits to local museums.
Although summer is a season of relaxation, it is just as important for learning as fall, winter and spring. Even here in Minnesota, where we pride ourselves on our high quality of life, we have one of the largest educational achievement gaps in the country between white and non-white students.
A 2009 research brief by the National Summer Learning Association highlights some of the consequences that summer learning loss has for youth who are often already at a disadvantage:
- 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, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
- About two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.
- Not only children's minds are affected disproportionately, but their bodies, as well. Most children--particularly children at high risk of obesity -- gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break.
- Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do.
As Jeff Smink of the National Summer Learning Association wrote last year, "We cannot afford to spend nearly 10 months of every year devoting enormous amounts of intellect, energy and money to promoting student learning and achievement, and then walk away from that investment every summer".
This has got me wondering about ways to address this issue. How can we work to diminish the summer learning loss that most students, especially those in poor and disfranchised communities experience during the summer? What are ways we could implement high quality learning opportunities during the summer for these youth? How can we learn about the needs of parents and communities when it comes to summer programming for their youth?
What should the role of community after-school programs be in eliminating educational disparities? How can they address summer learning loss?
-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation
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