So begins the long hot summer. Summer holidays for most children, the world over, are a time to relax, enjoy themselves, and catch up on studies, or to spend time with family and friends. Many families travel together on school holidays. Not so for most impoverished families whose children are growing up in challenging circumstances, or close to it. We know this first hand, having offered year-round programs to predominantly immigrant and refugee families since 2012.
The US has the auspicious distinction of having one the longest summer vacations of any developed country. According to Organization for Economic and Community Development, the US doesn’t have a uniform school year and summer vacation schedule. It’s therefore hard to tell where American schools stack up in comparison with the rest of the world. But the largest districts in the US have a summer break of 11 to 12 weeks, or about two and a half months, according to data from the National Council on Teacher Quality. That’s more time off than kids get in France, Germany, and Poland, and a bit longer than Finland and Norway. This information is also supported by Pew Research
Summer is not a good time for underperforming children in our local public schools. Of the estimated 48,000 kindergarten to third grade students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), approximately 31,000 will not have access to summer enrichment programs. That’s a long 11 weeks to be without some level of enrichment while they often spend the summer cooped up at home, often taking care of younger siblings, and confined to the indoors.
Having provided programs for underserved communities and their children, we have seen the impacts of what is commonly called the summer slide. This is a well-publicized phenomenon whereby children from low-income families lose ground to their more affluent peers every year, on account of not having the needed encouragement at home, access to books, and access to similar literacy enrichment programs.
We, at Learning Help Centers of Charlotte, are grateful to be able to address the summer slide for our children for the sixth consecutive year. We want each and every child to return to school more confident, hopeful and encouraged that they can be what they want to be, because they read great books that we provided for them, and spent some of the long summer reading and learning with cool and caring volunteers!
Most of our children join our program two- to three- reading grade levels behind their peers who speak English at home and whose parents most likely attended college. Our goal is to encourage reading and math intervention during the summer so that our students, ages 5 to 11 years, can start the new school year in September no worse than they ended the prior school year. If children stay at grade level that’s a huge win. If they work hard, and stay engaged through learning during the summer, hallelujah! We are doing our bit to encourage children to use their summer wisely. Most importantly, we are also educating parents that summer should not be a time to take a break. We provide various interventions for children and parents alike, so that the summer can be an opportunity to stay on track or make advancements, rather than slide back. Who wants any child of ours to get way behind, and then run the risk of dropping out of school in later years. A good education should be within reach of every child, even those who could not afford to attend fun educational camps, like their more fortunate peers.
With an average 6 out of 10 (only 39% can read at grade level) to be exact) third grade students not reading at grade level, wouldn’t we be better off with a shorter summer and the opportunity to avoid the summer slide? We will continue to do what we do, one child and family at a time, as we treat all children as our children!