Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Welcome to California's Summer Matters Initiative

By Sam Piha

Summer is an important time for learning. Summer youth programs enjoy flexibility with access to the community resources which makes alignment with the Learning in Afterschool & Summer principles a natural fit. The Partnership for Children and Youth recently launched their statewide Summer Matters Initiative, that is the focus of our interview with Executive Director, Jennifer Peck. 

Jennifer Peck
Q: Can you briefly describe the statewide Summer Matters initiative that you recently launched in San Francisco? 

A: Summer Matters is a statewide campaign with the goal of increasing access to high quality summer learning opportunities in California.  The Campaign has several components:  Building awareness amongst policy makers and the public about why summer learning is so critical for all students; Building models of high quality summer learning that complement the best of after school learning programs; Developing and advocating for policies at the local and state level that support summer learning opportunities, particularly for low-income students.

Q: Why did the Partnership decide to focus on this issue? 

A: Summer learning loss is a phenomenon we’ve known about for 100 years.  But more recent research has linked summer learning loss to the achievement gap, and the information is truly stunning.  Low-income students who lack educationally enriching opportunities in the summer are losing significant ground in their learning, and fall further and further behind each summer, resulting in a significantly larger achievement gap.  It’s become clear that educational equity won’t be possible unless we address summer learning loss.  

Q: The California legislature allocates a large sum of money each year for afterschool programs. Is there funding support for these programs to continue operations after the school year ends? 

A: A small portion of our After School Education and Safety and 21st Century Community Learning Centers dollars are dedicated to summer programming, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the need.  Senate Bill 429, championed by Superintendent Torlakson and approved last year, provides more flexibility in these summer supplemental dollars which is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to identify resources for summer programming.  Ultimately, we believe that our after school dollars should be designed to offer structured, engaging learning opportunities all year long, with seamless and aligned staffing, relationships, curriculum and goals.  While summer should look and feel different from even school-year after school programs, there should be continuity of effort.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson launches Summer Matters 

Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project is promoting 5 key learning principles that we believe are important for formal and informal summer learning: learning activities should be active, collaborative, meaningful, support mastery, and expand the horizons of participants. Do you agree that these are relevant to those who design summer learning experiences? If so, why? 

A: Absolutely!  Summer offers more time to bring these principles to life.  With a 6 to 8 hour day – free from the requirements of the school or even after school environment – summer allows staff and youth to collaborate more completely.  Staff and youth  can work together to expand on topics and activities that are particularly interesting to young people, and they can flex the program schedule to ensure that youth gain skills and knowledge through a variety of interactions.  This varied and deep engagement is hard to find in more traditional learning environments, but, as the LIAS movement has clearly demonstrate, is well-suited to summer and critical to young people’s long-term interest and success in learning.

Q: How can youth advocates and program leaders follow new developments in California regarding summer learning opportunities? 

A: The Summer Matters Campaign needs partners and advocates up and down the state.  We have developed information pieces, messaging, and public awareness and advocacy tools we want to share.  The best ways to get engaged and follow developments are to visit the Campaign website, and to sign up for the Partnership’s e-newsletter click here.

Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership For Children and Youth in 2001 and became its Executive Director in 2003. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. She was also one of our speakers at the How Kids Learn Conference in January 2012. Jennifer was recently honored by the Afterschool Alliance as an Afterschool Champion at the Nation's Capital.

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