The High Price of Summer

High Price of Summer

Do you have an elementary-school-aged kid at home, or do you know a family that does?  If you do, let’s face some facts.  According to The New York Times, just over 25 percent of families have a stay-at-home parent to supervise a child’s summer off from school.  For the rest of you, there is a high price on summer.

In my last chat with you, I wrote about the importance of community service for high school students— both for its value in enhancing their lives and for its usefulness when it comes to completing college applications.  I focused on after-school tutoring and enrichment programs for low-income kids and the research that shows that such programs do absolutely improve the academic, social, emotional, and behavioral skills of the kids they serve.  I said that volunteering in these programs is a great choice for community service for your high schooler and urged you to look for a program near you where your high schooler could volunteer next fall—hopefully, a program as good as the one I know and love, Adventures in Learning (Manhasset, NY).

Of course, some of these enrichment programs operate in the summer, too—though not enough of them, unfortunately. Furthermore, finding these summer programs is especially hard for low-income families, who have to struggle to pay for them or who have to look even harder to find free public programs.  KJ Dell-Antonia wrote about this dilemma in The New York Times on June 4, 2106, in an article aptly titled “The Families That Can’t Afford Summer.” According to the article, the average price of a summer program back in 2014 was $958 per child—a high price for a low-income family, especially for a family with more than one child.

So, what happens to kids’ skills in the summer?  Here is what the article tells us:

“Most kids lose math skills over the summer, but low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. Researchers credit the summer slide for about half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.”

That is something I did not know:  About half of the difference in achievement between low-income kids and their wealthier classmates could be eliminated if good summer academic and enrichment programs were available for those kids.  Not remedial programs.  Not make-it-up-because-you-failed programs.  But the kinds of programs that attract kids who want to learn and grow and do cool things that also teach them stuff in the summer. That just doesn’t seem so hard to do.  We should be ashamed that we don’t do better.  Because, as Benjamin Franklin once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

It is time to take a look at what your school district does about summer programs:

  • Ask your school board to discuss its plans for summer programs. Does your school district provide any?  Are they only remedial?  Do they reach out to low-income kids who can’t afford expensive summer activities?  How do those plans take into account the research about summer forgetting, especially among low-income kids?  Do they offer older students a chance to tutor or otherwise engage with younger students—a double win?  What can your PTA do to help?  If it’s too late for this year, planning for next year’s summer programming will be beginning soon.  Get busy.

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