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Experts and education professionals defend summer learning in Hill briefing

By Marco Ornelas

Summer isn’t a vacation for everyone. Every year, low-income students from underperforming schools find themselves experiencing a loss of knowledge freshly obtained during the school year. To address this important issue, the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill for Congressional staff and others to bring awareness to the importance of summer learning programs and to make the case for continued federal support of these programs.

A panel of experts, program providers, and advocates agreed that the faucet of resources available to our nation’s youth during the school year is turned off during the summer, creating a funding issue for vital programs across the country. The gap between school time and summertime resources becomes more problematic in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. To combat the lack of resources, many organizations and school districts have formed partnerships to ensure every child gets the support they need.

Success across the country

Dr. Dara Allen Ware, assistant superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, has tackled the issue of summer learning loss by establishing a 27-day-long program that provides students with supplemental training in math and reading.  A two year-long data comparison study conducted by Pittsburgh Public Schools demonstrated that the city’s summer learning programs increased the typical annual gain of math and reading scores by 20 percent. Additionally, the city of Pittsburgh coordinated partnerships between schools and local organizations to address food insecurity among low-income communities. During the summertime low-income children were able to have nutritious lunches in their programs.

Summer learning programs are also critical to preparing our future workforce with the skills they need for success. According to Regina Hill, district five commissioner for the city of Orlando, Florida, 19 community centers served 10,831 children over the summer in 2016; these community centers are often staffed and operated by local high school and college students training for a future career in education and child care.  

“Not only do you give these children a feeling of self-worth,” said Hill, “you also help keep them off the streets.”

Powerful testimonies

The personal stories of those directly benefiting from summertime resources made a compelling case for funding summer programs.

Gary A. Cobbs, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Montgomery, Alabama, reported that nearly 17 percent of the families in his region do not have food security. Children in Montgomery and other areas of Alabama depend on programs like Brown Bag Bus, a subsidiary of the YCMS of Greater Montgomery that travels into the community year-round to provide healthy meals to low-income youth. The service makes a huge difference to the community; there are cases of children going to bed without a meal when the service is not accessible and the food truck expects to serve up to 1,000 meals per week in the summer.

Diana Ortiz, an alumnus of the Higher Achievement program in D.C., testified that summer learning programs have changed her life by providing the resources needed to stay off the streets and in the classroom. Diana is one of many children who credit the positive strides in their life to summer learning programs.

“I would not be sitting here today if it was not for these programs,” Ortiz stated.

The importance of federal funding

Many summer programs receive funding from an array of sources, but one of the most important funding sources is the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program, which allow organizations to use federal funds to combat summer learning loss by providing enriching programs during the summer, before school and afterschool . President Trump’s FY 2018 budget proposal eliminates the 21st CCLC program, which if enacted,  would result in closing thousands of   summer learning and out-of-school time programs that serve millions of children across America.

Want to learn more about the benefits of summer learning programs and how you can get involved? Visit the National Summer Learning Association to find out more about summer learning programs and learn more about Community Learning Centers here.

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learn more about: 21st CCLC Extended Day Federal Policy