Leadership Message

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A recent page one story in The New York Times (July 2, 2009) explored the national trend of school districts cutting back on, or totally eliminating, summer programs. The headlines read “Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School” and “Students Left at Home.” The article cited sweeping cuts in summer programs in several states, including Florida, North Carolina, Delaware, California and Washington, and observed that these cuts are having a disproportionate impact on low-income parents, many of whom rely on summer school and other organized programs for child care while they are at work during July and August.

Community schools across the country are bucking this trend, making sure that students have access to fun and enriching activities during the summer months. Here at The Children’s Aid Society, and in many neighborhoods across the country where community school initiatives have taken hold, summer represents a major opportunity to promote children’s learning and healthy development. Our schools are open all summer long, ten hours a day, offering an extensive array of academic, physical, social and cultural enrichment. This summer, many of our camps have adopted the theme of My New York City, which is allowing children to study and explore the rich resources our city has to offer.

The urgency of maximizing the potential of the summer hours to educate and support our children has become the focal point of a superb colleague organization, the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University. Headed by Ron Fairchild, this organization has brought the issue of summer learning to the attention of policymakers and practitioners across the country, building on the research of Karl Alexander (also of Johns Hopkins) and others.

This research clearly documents the phenomenon of “summer slipback“— the experience of students who lose up to three months of proficiency in core academic subjects during their vacations from school. Low-income children suffer more from this phenomenon in reading than do their more affluent peers, perhaps because more advantaged children are using their literacy skills at summer camp or on trips with their families. Their parents may be taking them to the public library or the local bookstore to make sure they are reading for pleasure during the summer months. Low-income children, like the ones cited in the recent Times story, may well be at home watching television or playing video games because their families are less able to provide these enriching opportunities.

The summer slipback research points to the importance of practicing academic skills during school vacations. A use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon is clearly documented in numerous studies. In fact, both low-income and more affluent students tend to lose about three months of math proficiency during the summer months. The most likely explanation is that young people generally do not use their math skills outside of school, at any time of year.

In this special summer issue, Partnership Press examines how community schools address summer learning. First, we take a look at several of The Children’s Aid Society’s 20 summer camps in New York City and then travel to the Midwest to learn about the Hub Club Summer Leadership Program at the George Washington Community High School in Indianapolis. We also include Facts about Summer Learning Loss from the National Center for Summer Learning, at Johns Hopkins University.

To all our readers, we wish you a joyful and productive summer! Jane Quinn and Richard Negrón