High-Quality Summer Programs Close Learning Gaps, Increase Food Security, and Strengthen SEL for Top Results

March 2, 2020 • Filed under News

By Aaron Philip Dworkin, chief executive officer, NSLA and Marlyn Torres, senior program officer, New York Life Foundation in New York City

Published by the National Association of Secondary Principals | Principal Leadership Article, February 2020

It’s never too early to start thinking about summer programs for students. As educators and education advocates know, there are key distinguishing factors for high-quality summer programs—which include safe environments, mindful approaches, inclusive learning opportunities, and meaningful engagement.

However, these factors also highlight an important evolution in our field: that in order to really address the issue of equity, we need to expand the conversation about summer learning. We need to broaden our focus from merely closing the academic achievement gap to mapping out the whole summer experience: closing opportunity gaps, increasing children’s food security, and strengthening social and emotional learning (SEL). Keeping these factors in mind, consider three winning strategies that will help school administrators and educators design engaging and meaningful experiences for their students every summer.

1. Closing Opportunity Gaps

Research shows that while all kids lose some math skills during summer months, children from low-income backgrounds lose reading skills as well, further compounding their academic achievement gap. When you look a little deeper, you realize that while summer can exacerbate the achievement gap, opportunity gaps often manifest at birth. Summer should be approached as a great time to shrink some of these gaps. It’s a time for children to experience new adventures and learn on their own terms.

A wonderful example of accomplishing the magical combination of inclusive and innovative learning is the Summer STEAM Institute, powered by the South Carolina nonprofit Engaging Creative Minds. This program won the 2016 New York Life Foundation Excellence in Summer Learning Award from the National Summer Learning Association for its novel and effective approach to summer learning.

The Summer STEAM Institute began with the goal of bringing together children from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds and zip codes to experience creative learning and prevent summer learning loss. Artists teach math and science concepts through theater and music, and the school district provides the location and free summer breakfasts and lunches. Their motto is: Kids should be having so much fun they don’t even know they are learning. That “special sauce” keeps summer program attendance up and behavior problems down.

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