By Guest Blogger, Katie Brackenridge, The Partnership for Children and Youth
A child’s need for meaningful learning and enrichment experiences does not end in June when the school doors close for summer vacation. All children need to be engaged and active during the summer months in order to be on track when they return to school in the fall. Whether these needs are being met may boil down to a child’s neighborhood or family income level. Without summer learning opportunities, children—especially children in low-income communities— can fall dramatically behind academically.
More than 100 years of research about this phenomenon – known as summer learning loss –paints a clear and compelling picture. A longitudinal study from Johns Hopkins University found that low-income children lose about 2 months in their reading levels each summer. By 5th grade, the cumulative learning loss puts them nearly three grade level equivalents behind their more affluent peers. Unequal summer learning opportunities during elementary school years are responsible for about two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college.
Given this data, communities across the country are working hard to build high quality summer learning opportunities. They are quickly discovering that summer is the perfect time to put the Learning in Afterschool and Summer principles into action. Children don’t need or want more traditional school time during the summer. In fact, because summer programming is often voluntary, many children and youth won’t participate unless their experience is fun and engaging. In Making Summer Count, researchers from the RAND Corporation found – not surprisingly – that consistent attendance is a key indicator of a program’s ability to impact participant learning. Summer learning programs have to inspire and motivate in order to succeed.
Besides the imperative around attendance, the time and flexibility in summer programming also lends itself well to the LIAS principles.
· Learning that is Active - Summer curriculum can involve long-term projects that allow students to experiment, explore and discover. Projects that might take too much time or are too complicated for the school year become possible during the summer.
· Learning that is Collaborative – Quality summer learning programs encourage participants to experiment, explore and discover together. Throughout a summer, participants can be placed in a whole variety of different groupings that allow them to learn from each other, practice communication and negotiation skills and feel ownership for their work.
· Learning that is Meaningful - While quality programs plan their schedule and curriculum before summer begins, well-trained staff know how and when to adjust lessons and schedules to respond to participants’ interests and to allow deeper inquiry and the expression of youth voice. This flexibility ensures that activities and projects are meaningful to participants.
· Learning that Promotes Mastery – More time means more opportunity to support participants in building skills, particularly around projects that they want to be doing. Quality programs provide opportunities for participants to showcase their skills and accomplishments.
· Learning that Expands Horizons – Summer is also a natural time for programs to expose participants to new people and places. Visiting artists, lecturers and teachers offer different perspectives, ideas and experiences. Field trips allow participants to visit places – even in their own communities – that they may never have seen and where they are able to return after the program ends. Many summer programs take young people on their first overnight camping trips, which is invariably an awe-inspiring, bonding experience for participants.
 National Summer Learning Association, 2009.
 Alexander, et al, 2007.
 Sloan, Jennifer McComb, Making Summer Count, RAND Corporation, 2010.
Katie Brackenridge is Senior Director, Out of School Time Initiatives at the Partnership for Children and Youth. Shejoined the Partnership in 2004 and directs the Out of School Time initiatives. She has helped hundreds of school and community-based after school programs develop sustainability plans, plan and submit 21st CCLC and Prop 49/ASES grants, access additional funding sources and improve their program practices for after school and summer programming.
Katie also supports the Partnership’s work to develop and improve policies that make out-of-school-time programming more accessible and effective. She serves as Co-Chair of the Quality Committee of the California Afterschool Network, working to advise and inform the Network, the California Department of Education and other stakeholders about systems and strategies to support quality programming across the state.