By Steve Adler and Andy Roddick
Summertime: School’s out, and the heat is on! July 14 was National Summer Learning Day, and communities across the country commemorated the day by highlighting the various learning opportunities that are available to young people when they’re not in school.
In Austin, the summer is one of the busiest times for many public agencies and nonprofits. Our community recreation centers, public parks, museums, libraries, and many school facilities are open all day and used not just by youngsters but their entire families. With everything going on, we want everyone to remember three things.
First, summer learning is a serious issue. The National Summer Learning Association has documented decades of research that the lack of learning supports during this time of year had dire consequences for many of our children. The so-called “summer slide” — when low-income students lose academic gains and skills during the break — has a cumulative effect and widens the achievement gap. Research proves that dropouts in high school and college can be traced back to lack of summer learning activities. But as much as Austinites want to access these activities, they often lack adequate transportation. This is where we need state help to address infrastructure barriers and enable many families to easily access high-quality programs throughout the city. Summer learning merits the same level of strategy, funding, and planning when it comes to our children’s development as we would during the schoolyear.
Second, summer learning is a community-wide approach. We are not limited to the four walls of a room - the entire city is a curriculum open to everyone. During the school year, more than 83,000 Austin students benefit from the teaching and learning that occur in our classrooms, but once the academic year ends, inequities in learning opportunities come to the fore. Summer presents us with an opportunity to come together and expose our young people to new ideas, acquire new skills, and enable them to discover their passions. We have the public agencies, nonprofit programs, philanthropic and private sector resources to make sure every child has access to fun, engaging, and quality learning experiences. We just need to deploy them year-round in a way where everyone can enjoy them.
Third, everyone can do something to make high-quality summer learning experiences available to every Austin student. Know where your community recreation centers are. Much of the amenities and programs there are low-cost or free of charge. Contact the school district to find more information on summer learning programs in your neighborhood. Businesses can encourage their employees to volunteer in some of these programs or host career-related field trips at their offices. And schools and universities can make available facilities that would otherwise be closed and unused during this time of year. You have no idea how interesting you might be to a bored child.
With so man ways to work together and bring equity in learning opportunities all children need, we really are left with a simple question: Are we going to step up, or are we going to let some kids fall behind? National Summer Learning Day is one day a year, but the moral imperative to come together to ensure all children are learning, thriving, and succeeding lasts all year long.