Washington Post: New Evidence that Summer Programs Can Make a Difference for Poor Children


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By Emma Brown | September 7 at 7:00 AM

During their long, languid summers, lots of children forget the lessons they learned in school. But the hot empty months pose an especially big academic hurdle for poor children, whose families might not have time or money for camps or enrichment activities.

Now new research suggests that school districts can stave off the so-called summer slide by offering free, voluntary programs that mix reading and math instruction with sailing, arts and crafts and other summer staples. The research also shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, that students have to attend the programs regularly to reap the benefits.


Rising fourth grader, Kevin Ramirez, 9, works on a self portrait during art class, part of a new summer program for low-income children in Montgomery County, Md. The program was not among those funded and studied by the Wallace Foundation. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

(Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The results raise two natural questions for cash-strapped districts: Are the academic benefits worth the considerable cost? And if so, how do you persuade kids to show up?

In Boston, where Mayor Marty Walsh has been a vocal advocate for summer learning, city and school officials said the new research is helping to galvanize support for spending on summer programs. But it’s not a burden that the district can shoulder alone.

Boston Public Schools runs its summer program in partnership with the nonprofit Boston After School & Beyond, pairing certified teachers using district curricula with community organizations that provide a range of enrichment activities.

The district estimates that the program costs about $1,500 per child. Wallace Foundation funding was critical for getting the program off the ground, said Turahn Dorsey, Boston’s chief of education. Now the city is aiming to share the cost, with the school system, nonprofit organizations and philanthropists each picking up about one-third of the bill.

“It’s more sustainable if you have a set of partners to help carry the load,” Dorsey said.

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