Learning Still in Demand When Temperatures Rise

Summer learning programs for kids are facing growing enrollment and tighter budgets, according to a survey released on June 21 by the Afterschool Alliance in conjunction with Summer Learning Day.  Nearly a fifth of summer programs (17 percent) reported reducing their services last summer due to budget pressures, while more than half (54 percent) said they expect increased enrollment this summer.

“Summer learning programs and their related afterschool programs are facing severe hardships,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, “and it’s having a very real impact on their ability to serve children and families across the nation. We’ve seen any number of afterschool programs close their doors in recent years as a result of funding cutbacks from government at all levels and the challenging fundraising environment programs face in today’s economy. These new survey results tell us that summer learning programs are not immune to those pressures. As a result, programs are forced to stretch beyond capacity or make severe budget cuts, just when families need them the most.”

These programs are successful, Grant said, because they use the afterschool formula for hands-on, experiential learning and work with community partners to give students access to opportunities and experiences they might not otherwise have.

According to the survey, Uncertain Times 2012: Summer Learning Matters:


  • In 2011, 80 percent of the afterschool programs in the survey offered summer learning programs.
  • More than six in 10 summer learning programs (61 percent) reported operating at maximum capacity or over maximum capacity. The problem was even more acute in urban areas, where almost seven in 10 summer learning programs in the survey (69 percent) reported operating at or over maximum capacity. 
  • Seventeen percent of summer learning programs reported reducing their services due to a decrease or stagnation of funds.
  • More than one-third of programs (36 percent) reported having a waiting list. In urban areas, more than four in 10 (42 percent) reported having a waiting list. 
  • Fifty-four percent of summer learning programs expected their 2012 enrollment to be higher or much higher than in 2011. 
  • Almost six in 10 programs (59 percent) surveyed served as a summer food service program sponsor, a summer feeding site, or both.

Summer Learning Day
To kick-off the summer season, more than 300 summer programs across the country celebrated Summer Learning Day last week. Programs presented workshops on the benefits of summer programs, emphasized literacy, showcased youth activities that engage in interactive learning, conducted science experiments and more.

Recent research from the RAND Corporation shows that high-quality summer programs with individualized instruction, parental involvement and small classes can help boost student achievement. Most youth lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math computational skills over the summer, and students from low-income households can fall even further behind.

“Summer Learning Day is an important opportunity to highlight the vital role that summer learning programs play in our children’s education,” Grant said. “By keeping kids learning over the summer, and by reinforcing the core concepts they learned during the previous nine months, summer programs help kids at all levels avoid summer learning loss and arrive in school ready to achieve in the fall.”

Gary Huggins, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association, wrote in the Washington Post, “No matter how much other school reforms accomplish, the traditional school calendar sorely underutilizes summer. At a time when budgets are tight and resources are strained, we simply cannot afford to spend nearly 10 months of every year devoting enormous amounts of intellect, energy and money promoting student achievement, and then walk away from that investment each summer. We must support high-quality programs so that all youth…have a fighting chance to overcome the summer slide and achieve success.”

Uncertain Times 2012: Summer Learning Matters is part of the Afterschool Alliance’s ongoing Uncertain Times survey project, gauging the effect of budget pressures and the economy on out-of-school-time programs. A fact sheet on the most recent findings is available online. The Afterschool Alliance will release the full results of this year’s Uncertain Times survey in the upcoming back-to-school season.


This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 13, Issue 6).

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