An overwhelming 93 percent of Rhode Island parents feel summer learning programs are important for a child’s continuing educational experience, while 78 percent strongly agree that summer learning programs help reduce the chances of children engaging in risky behavior. Many parents view summer learning programs as playing key roles in keeping children safe, boosting academic achievement, guiding children toward career paths and assisting working families.
These findings were identified in response to a survey of parents throughout the state, conducted for United Way of Rhode Island and its education initiative, the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA).
Summertime often provides a three-month break for children after nine months of schooling; however, a vacation from learning erodes the knowledge gained during the previous academic year. This phenomenon is called summer learning loss, and studies confirm that the concern is real. According to research from Johns Hopkins University, students, on average, lose the equivalent of more than two months of math skills during the summer. Those in lower-income communities fall behind in reading an average of two months, while their middle-income peers make slight gains. Another study found that as much as two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between children in lower- and higher-income households can be explained by what happens over the summer months during the elementary and middle school years.
Despite the fact that 93 percent of parents deem summer learning important, only 53 percent of Ocean State parents indicate that their children have participated in summer programs.
Encouragingly, private and public sector organizations across our country are galvanizing efforts to ensure that summer learning takes its place as a supplement to a standard school curriculum. Rhode Island has long been a proactive, national leader regarding initiatives for out-of-school time including summer learning. To date, state leaders have convened a summer learning work group; piloted innovative, statewide summer programs; and created a legislative taskforce to study the issue. The taskforce concluded that Rhode Island needs strong summer learning programs to combat summer learning loss in our state.
To address summer learning loss, United Way of Rhode Island and RIASPA, with strong corporate and foundation support, are leading a collaborative effort that will funnel needed grants to partnerships between existing summer learning programs and community-based organizations in order to enhance students’ academic performance. In all, supporters are committing more than $300,000 through United Way of Rhode Island in direct program funding this summer.
Eleven sites have been awarded grants. Each of the recipients embodies community-based collaboration. School districts, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, libraries, parks and recreation departments – even farms, theaters and dance studios – will play a crucial role in advancing education for children participating in the 11 programs.
A Cranston program has been awarded a summer learning grant that will advance children’s experiential education through integrated community partnerships. CampXL is an experiential-learning collaboration between Cranston Community Learning Center’s Bain +2 Program/Cranston Public Schools and the Cranston YMCA Teen Center. Other community partners include Cranston Public Library; Cranston Area Career & Technical Center; Education in Action; and Hugh B. Bain Middle School.
Meanwhile, bills are currently before both chambers of the General Assembly that, if passed, will allocate $500,000 to support additional summer learning programs in Rhode Island communities. The United Way of Rhode Island survey also reveals that 80 percent of parents favor public funding for out-of-school programming, and this support is critical as the need for summer learning programs far exceeds the amount of private funding available. If passed, this legislation would create opportunities for many additional children and ensure that they return to school in September prepared to be successful. We look forward to working with state officials to make these opportunities available throughout Rhode Island.
For more information on summer learning and other out-of-school initiatives in Rhode Island, visit www.afterschoolri.org.
Anthony Maione is president and CEO of United Way of Rhode Island. Adam Greenman is executive director of the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance, an education initiative of United Way of Rhode Island.