Summer is delightful – a wonderful time of year when children play outdoors with friends and families plan barbecues and fun-filled trips to the beach.
While many of us draw some of our fondest childhood memories from the two short months that separate each school year, overwhelming research reveals that students who spend their summers without enriching, educational activities fall victim to summer learning loss – a phenomenon that has long-lasting implications on their development.
According to research that spans the last century, all students, regardless of their family’s socioeconomic status, experience learning loss when they’re not engaged in educational programming during the summer. As a result, they score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do on the same tests in May. They also lose about two months of grade level mathematical skills; and children from lower-income situations may lose more than two months of reading ability.
As improving the education of our youth remains a crucial issue, more and more attention is being focused on the importance of summer learning programs, and for good reason. Sadly, just one in four students across the country today participate in these life-changing programs. Here in Rhode Island, I’m proud to say that we are leading the charge to reverse this unfortunate trend.
At United Way of Rhode Island, we know that a strong education is one of the key building blocks to a good life and the most effective tool to break the cycle of poverty. Learning, however, should never be confined solely to the classroom, which is why we partnered with Hasbro and other donors in 2012 to launch the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative.
Last summer, more than 1,100 elementary and middle school students across the Ocean State participated in the initiative’s 11 programs, experiencing the educational activities that kept them on track with their development when they returned to school in September. The $550,000 collaborative effort successfully provided support and technical assistance to community-based organizations and after-school programs partnering with school districts to develop and deliver high-quality summer learning experiences. Additionally, the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance, an education initiative of United Way of Rhode Island, played a critical role in providing curriculum guidance.
Along with Cranston, the 11 programs were located in Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, West Warwick, Westerly and Woonsocket. For six weeks, each program offered students a fascinating array of learning activities that infused academics with hands-on, real-world experiences. Some of the activities included: Cleaning up neighborhoods and riverbanks; growing garden vegetables and learning to cook with them; painting murals that expressed social messages; exploring our state’s beautiful shoreline; and much more.
Locally, the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative has made an undeniable impact.
In Cranston, 67 seventh and eighth graders participated in CampXL, a partnership between Hugh B. Bain Middle School/Bain+2 and the Cranston YMCA Teen Center. The camp’s theme was “Living Smart,” and its curriculum was highlighted by three groups of students tasked with creating restaurants through research and selecting healthy meal choices.
Over the course of six weeks, each group rotated through hands-on units designed to teach them how to “build” a successful restaurant. Students learned to prepare foods, write recipes, develop menus, create their brand, and communicate with potential customers. Through these efforts, Cranston students advanced their reading, writing and mathematics skills while improving their research and critical thinking abilities and interactions with peers.
Perhaps what is most impressive, however, is that an independent evaluation of the inaugural Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative showed that no students participating in these programs experienced learning loss. In fact, 46 percent made noticeable gains in math, while 16 percent realized improvements in literacy. These are results that everyone can support.
Moving forward, Rhode Island will continue to close the achievement gap as the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative’s second year will see an increase in the number of children it impacts. This year, funding from the Hasbro Children’s Fund and United Way of Rhode Island will be bolstered by an additional $250,000 from the Rhode Island Department of Education.
As a result, we expanded the initiative by adding five programs and three new communities: Cumberland, East Providence and North Kingstown. All told, 1,500 students at 16 program sites across the state will now spend their summer engaged in learning, and, as a result, will be ready to tackle new, grade-level curriculum when schools reconvene in September.
The encouraging statistics from the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative’s initial year tell a simple truth: High-quality summer learning does erase summer learning loss. Through greater outreach this summer, these programs, again, will show that summer learning is improving the educational outlook for Rhode Island’s students – setting the stage for a more successful school year and a more successful future.