Friday, August 30, 2013

School’s Starting: Are Students Ready? The Benefits of Summer Learning for Kids’ Physical and Academic Fitness

By Guest Bloggers Patrice Chamberlain, Director of the California Summer Meal Coalition & Jennifer Peck, Summer Matters Campaign Co-Chair   

Patrice Chamberlain
It’s almost time to head back to school– but are students ready? One telling sign of a student’s physical health and academic readiness for the year ahead is whether they had access to a high quality summer learning program.

It is well documented that a lack of summer learning opportunities leads to “summer learning loss” – the loss of skills and knowledge that causes teachers to spend valuable fall classroom time re-teaching students who need catching up. 

According to the National Summer Learning Association, the cost of re-teaching material that students forget due to summer learning loss is four to six weeks of school time, or $1,500 per student. 

Jennifer Peck
It's not just academics that suffer when students miss out on summer learning, but their physical health may suffer as well. Low-income and rural communities often have fewer supermarkets and retail outlets offering healthy food; they may also lack safe places to play. For many children living in those neighborhoods, school’s summer closure means disrupted access to a consistent source of healthy food and fewer opportunities for physical activity. Without that access, children may become sedentary and eat junk food or skip meals. 

A UC Irvine study found that low-income children are more likely to fall into these unhealthy habits due to a lack of opportunity to participate in organized activities. Without access to summer learning activities, students may gain weight two to three times faster during the summer than during the school year. 

As part of a nationwide effort to prevent summer learning loss, a growing number of school districts are recognizing the need to make providing equal access to high-quality summer learning programs a priority because they offer an unparalleled opportunity for children to learn while having fun, with nutritious meals and health and wellness education blended into engaging projects and activities.

In addition to the summer learning activities taking place in schools, there are also community-based organizations across California that are partnering in new and innovative ways – and opening their doors to students and their families – to make sure summer matters. 

In Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, for example, local libraries have joined the efforts to keep kids healthy by jointly launching Summer Lunch at the Library programs to combat summer learning loss and summer hunger – offering summer reading programs along with free, healthy lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer nutrition programs.

Summertime is an untapped resource; when students are free from homework and other stresses associated with the school year, they are free to learn and participate in new ways. In addition, summer programs can help promote healthy eating and active living by incorporating physical activity and nutrition education. Introducing students to summer’s agricultural abundance through summer programs is a great way to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables (not to mention it helps California farmers too). 

Although the onset of the school year will soon leave summer as a distant memory, we must continue to advocate for a coordinated and year-round approach to student health and learning that includes summer—it’s an investment in our students’ future. Parents, government agencies, community organizations, businesses, and school districts all play a role in setting students up for success. They are, after all, our future leaders and workforce that will help sustain our communities. 

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