As the founder of a national summer learning program, I have the wonderful privilege of spending time with thousands of parents and children and hearing their stories. One story has always stayed with me.
After attending a college field trip hosted by Butler University, a scholar joined his family at a July Fourth celebration. During the event, he declared to everyone that he was determined to go to college. In fact, the nine-year-old said, “I have decided to attend and graduate from Butler University.” There were 43 family members at the cookout, and no one there had gone to college.
His grandmother told me this story with tears of pride in her eyes.
Experiences like this and the decisions they inspire change a child’s life forever. Yet they happen all too rarely for our children. Indeed, only 26 percent of children in the U.S. earn a four-year college degree. Even more dismally, that number is only 6 percent of children in low-income communities.
Over 100 years of research arrives at an alarming consensus: Summer learning loss is responsible for declines in academic development among all children. Children across the country are losing the fight for their future, and it's happening during the summer.
Summer learning loss is harming our nation’s future as well. Gaps in educational achievement between the U.S. and better-performing nations – many of whose students attend school 30 to 45 more days each year – represent a loss in U.S. GDP of $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion.
One of the most effective strategies for impacting student achievement - accelerated summer learning programs - has gone virtually unused. This is particularly true in low-income communities where students face the steepest declines in learning over the summer months. To remain competitive as a nation, the U.S. needs a nationally replicable, scientifically proven solution to raise educational achievement for all students and prevent summer learning loss.
Summer Advantage USA, a national nonprofit organization, harnesses the power of summer learning to raise the achievement of all children. Focused on both the academic and social development of our children (whom we call “scholars,”) Summer Advantage offers rigorous academic instruction in the morning and a diverse array of enrichment in the afternoon; a healthy breakfast and lunch; service projects and inspirational guest speakers; fun field trips and an annual college campus visit.
The Summer Advantage program is also research-based. A recent study released by RAND and the Wallace Foundation, “Making Summer Count,” shows that a blended summer learning format makes the greatest impact. Where summer school is often remedial and punitive, summer learning is not just for children to catch up but also to accelerate their learning. Where summer camps focus primarily on enrichment, summer learning provides enrichment but pushes children to excel in academics as well.
As opposed to experiencing the typical loss of over two months of academic skills during the summer, Summer Advantage scholars gain over two months of reading, writing and math skills. These gains translate into higher test scores during the school year: state test scores for our third-graders in Decatur Township increased by 14 percentage points.
"Those are real numbers and Summer Advantage is a huge part of that improvement,” noted Superintendent Don Stinson.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently launched a national initiative to ensure that all children are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. A cornerstone of their campaign is high-quality summer learning programs.
Summer Advantage is proud to be part of the Third Grade Reading Campaign. We plan on serving 100,000 children annually within the next five years and eventually one million children throughout the U.S. Whether you are an educator, parent or school district, we encourage you to consider summer learning as an option for your children.
I hope one day, we will have the opportunity to work together on behalf of our children and families.
Earl Martin Phalen is the founder of Summer Advantage, which provides summer learning opportunities to low-income children in Indiana and Illinois.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.