For example, children from lower-income families lose an average of two months of reading and 2.6 months in math achievement over the summer, and the impact is cumulative according to Reading is Fundamental, a children’s reading literacy organization. This loss is even greater in children with learning disabilities and other special needs.
The achievement gap from grades one through five has been attributed to summer interruptions in the educational process. According to the The Learning Season: The Untapped Power of Summer to Advance Student Achievement commissioned by the Nellie Mae Foundation, children from low socio-economic areas begin school about six months behind in academics already, but by fifth grade the gaps widen to 2.5 grade levels behind.
Since 2000, the Nellie Mae Foundation has focused on evaluation of factors both in and outside of the classroom that impact achievement. Beth Miller, Ph.D. wrote in the introduction of The Learning Season that a broader view of how and where learning takes place is needed that looks not only at schools, teachers and curriculum, but at familial, community and social experiences. There appears to be a disconnect between policymakers and researchers who through their work have demonstrated the impact of interrupted learnings on health, wellness and potential for underprivileged youth.
The long summer break only exacerbates a child’s struggle to have academic success. As children fall further behind during the elementary school years, their chances of graduating high school drop significantly.
According to Dosomething.org, over 1.3 million youth dropped out of high school in 2012, and low reading proficiency dramatically increased the risk. In 2014 in Minnesota, less than 80 percent of students graduated after four years; however, this rate drops below 60 percent for African Americans.
Summer enrichment and achievement programs are simply not available to low-income families due to lack of funding. With the high cost of child care, over 10 percent of youth between six and 12 are often left unsupervised during the summer because the parents work.
Unsupervised children and teens are far more likely to engage in alcohol, drug or tobacco use and high-risk behavior, decreasing the likelihood of graduating high school as well as reducing wellness throughout the life span.
During the summer, it may be a challenge for families to provide nutritional foods for their children. According to the No Kids Hungry website, children who eat breakfast have higher math scores and are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school. With breakfast, kids also have less disruptive behavior and are more attentive.
Of the 15 million children who qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year, only 20 percent of them receive food assistance during summer months. Proper nutrition is critical in the development of intelligence, emotional and mental wellness, and health, and it is believed that the brain continues developing long past adolescence.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board offers free breakfast, lunch or dinner, but days and times at each site vary. Also, the United States Department of Agriculture, along with the MN Department of Education, has a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP); you can locate sites near you at www.usda.gov. Second Harvest Heartland also offers free meals during the summer — see below.
Parents have to be vigilant over the summer because kids tend to gain two to three times more weight with African American and Hispanic children at the highest risk for obesity. However, while a child may be overweight or obese, this does not mean that they are receiving proper nutrients. Please see your primary care provider or pediatrician for educational information about nutrition.
There are a number of actions parents can take to improve their child’s academic performance not only in the summer but year round:
- Read to your child. Allowing them to see you read and having books available improves reading abilities. If a parent is unable to help the student with their homework, the school can assist in finding a tutor for support.
- Have the child “teach” you their homework. This can improve their motivation to do their assignments. Be aware of your attitude about school when around your child and avoid statements like, “I hated math”; this will not improve your child’s math skills.
- Recognize your child’s successes. Praise your kids often and let them hear you praising them to others.
Every child is gifted, and helping the child identify their gift can go a long way in improving a child’s self-esteem and confidence.
For detailed information on Second Harvest Heartland’s summer meals program, visit www.2harvest.org/content_types/blog-posts/catch-a-free-meal-this-summer.html.
Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.