Guest Opinion Essay on Youth Today
By Aaron P. Dworkin, National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), and Marlyn Torres, New York Life Foundation
As America’s education system and economy recover from COVID-19, communities everywhere are turning to summer learning for hope and inspiration in preparing students for the school year ahead. Thanks to a $30 billion federal investment through the American Rescue Plan, thousands of school districts, non-profit organizations, and government agencies have turbo-charged efforts to expand access to summer programs that accelerate learning, address social emotional needs and ultimately, rekindle the joy of summer for millions of students.
From working with a legion of summer and afterschool program leaders and grantees in the field, we hear two questions most often. “How can we ensure these new investments and programs reach the students who need them most?” and “How can we ensure youth continue to receive high-quality summer learning experiences even after the emergency funding runs out?
These are the two questions policymakers, educators, and families would be wise to remember and articulate why summer learning programs are unique, impactful, and well-positioned to respond to the diverse needs of children and youth at this moment.
As the most recent National Academies of Sciences report on Summertime Experiences noted, summer is a metaphor for both inequity and opportunity for young people in education. The term “summer learning” has undergone a rebranding of sorts and emerged over the last several decades as a counter strategy to the widely held, negative perceptions of traditional “summer school” which has historically been viewed as punitive, mandatory, remedial, boring, solely focused on academics, and confined often to a school building.
In contrast, by design, high quality summer learning programs offer more freedom for hands-on, and project-based fun. They align with school district goals but do so in creative ways, which combine academics, health and fitness, enrichment, and mental health supports.
We need to ensure more families sign up for these hybrid experiences. To raise awareness, NSLA, with support from the New York Life Foundation, has teamed up with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCA USA, National Recreation and Parks Association, Urban Library Council, and others to launch DiscoverSummer.org, a new online destination developed in response to COVID-19, to help families discover affordable summer programs, meals, parent tips and a sea of resources to keep kids learning, earning, safe and healthy this season.
To sustain support for these programs over time, we must show policymakers, educators, and the media the benefits summer learning programs can have on the lives of young people. This is why each year, NSLA leads the annual National Summer Learning Week (July 12-16) to invite leaders to see programs firsthand and to illuminate our “Four I’s of Summer:”