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Summer Programs Provide Underprivileged Students A Chance To Grow

First Posted: 07/13/2011 6:07 pm EDT Updated: 09/12/2011 6:12 am EDT

According to a 2007 study by the National Summer Learning Association at Johns Hopkins University, "all young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activity during the summer."

On average, students lose about two months off their grade level mathematical skill during the summer months. Similarly, low income students can expect to lose two more months off their reading skills, while middle-class students make slight gains, according to the study. Overall, the NSLA concludes that "more than half of the acchievement gap between lower and higher- income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities."

A growing trend in public education attempts to quell the summer slump, while addressing the needs of underprivileged youth.

"There is a real disparity in summer learning opportunities for children in disadvantaged communities," Steven Wirt of the Partnership for Children and Youth, an Oakland-based nonprofit promoting the California summer learning campaign, told The Los Angeles Times. "We want to be sure these kids are not subjected to this devastating summer learning loss. It becomes exponentially detrimental as students move through their academic careers and later on in life."

According to Education Week, a group of 1,200 Baltimore middle schoolers were enrolled in a six-week summer math program in 2010, emphasizing the connections between arithmetic and amusement. Students made jewelry, built robots and even had a swimming lesson with Michael Phelps to learn about the importance of decimals on race times. At the end of the program, 60 percent of the students had retained their math ability, and 10 percent were found to have actually improved.

This method of disguising learning has been an effective method across the country. In California, the Whittier school district has created the "Passport to the World" program, teaching students academics through multicultural activities. The Whittier Daily News reports that they even held a celebration on June 21st, the longest day of the year, first day of summer and National Summer Learning Day.

"Children like it 100% more," Jenny Hernandez, Whittier's instruction specialist, told the LA Times. "They're excited and come back to school in the fall with an enthusiasm for learning."

According to a 2009 survey of Californian parents, the education advocate nonprofit Afterschool Alliance found that 27 percent, an estimated 1,844,377 children, were participating in an educational summer program. An additional 66 percent of parents, translating to an estimated 3,278,892 children, were interested in enrolling.

These programs, however, are not cheap. According to the Baltimore Sun, the city of Baltimore paid $7.1 million for its summer school programs, and the LA Times reports that Whittier's efforts were spurred by a $110,000 grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation as part of their $20 million summer learning initiative.

As state school budgets are slashed nationwide, summer programs like these may only be able to subsist with help from nonprofit donations. In Washington, D.C. $17 million in cuts has left 15,000 students without structured programs to attend this summer.

This year, the National Summer Learning Association received an $11.5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation that they hope to use to provide 20,000 6th to 9th graders in 10 cities with better opportunities over the next three years.

This donation is part of the Walmart Foundation's $25 million dollar "Summer Success Series" commitment, helping students in 15 cities coast to coast.

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Filed by Andrew Lenoir  |