Summer for children from middle class and wealthy families is a time for fun, relaxation, and learning. Children growing up in a family with means experience a summer full of opportunities to engage in creative outlets such as camp, family vacations, and visits to museums and libraries that develop their mind, body, and spirit allowing them to enter school in the fall ready to take on new academic challenges. Children from low income families, however, are more likely to spend the summer languishing in environments that do not stimulate learning, promote creativity nor enrich the mind body or spirit of a child. These children in return experience summer slide, a loss of academic progress made during the previous school year that sets them apart from their wealthier peers.
A study by researchers at John Hopkins University, cited in a recent Time article titled The Case Against Summer Vacation, reported that while students made similar progress during the school year regardless of economic barriers, by the end of grammar school low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind their better-off peers. This well documented achievement gap is the result of multiple years of academic loss attributed to summer slide.
This summer the YMCA, in collaboration with the Middletown Board of Education, provided a five week summer enrichment and academic program to children entering first grade primarily attending Macdonough School in Middletown. Funded by grants from the Liberty Bank Foundation, People’s United Community Foundation and the Middlesex Community Foundation, this program served sixteen children from low income families. Using classroom space donated by South Congregational Church, certified teachers provided small group literacy support to children for an hour each day. YMCA staff provided enrichment and recreation activities employing a different learning theme each week that included: Adventures in Food and Fitness, Lights Camera and Action and Crafting Through the Continents. Students also went on field trips, played outdoors, went swimming and participated in the CRT Summer Lunch Program that provided both a healthy breakfast and lunch each day.
Data is currently being collected to determine if through engagement in a full day summer program students avoided the traditional summer slide and/or produced academic gains. We do know that the children who attended were eager to participate in all components of the program and the teaching staff were very pleased with the enthusiasm and personal academic and social progress that each child exhibited at the conclusion of the five week program. Summer slide is a serious academic concern that must be addressed if we are going to bridge the well known learning gap within our society. The YMCA, as a result of strong community partnerships, has provided sixteen children with an opportunity to close the gap and be successful first graders.