Summer is a time of outdoor adventures, catching up with friends and family vacations.
But it is also a season of struggle for low-income students, who may go hungry without the free meals they received in school for the past nine months. These same students are, in turn, at a greater risk of being a victim of violence or injury outside the safety of their school buildings.
Low-income students, without books and computers in the home, often go without learning over the summer, causing them to lose 2-3 months of skill and knowledge each summer. This is known as the “Summer Slide.”
To help turn the Summer Slide into a Summer Jump, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley has implemented a summer learning program at Broughal Middle School in Bethlehem.
The project-based, integrated academic and enrichment program, which kicked off June 19, focuses on literacy and Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM), including a coding and programming camp through Penn State Lehigh Valley. Students will also get the opportunity to visit a college campus and learn about career and college pathways.
“It’s really critical to get kids involved in high-quality (educational) summer opportunities where they are learning, where they’re being fed and also where they’re safe,” said Beth Tomlinson, Director of K-12 Education for UWGLV.
Tomlinson said students from middle- and higher-income families potentially gain a month in learning over the summer by having access to computers, books and family resources. Yet lower-income youth, without these same resources, lose two months of learning. This summer learning gap between lower-income and their middle- and upper-income peers has a cumulative impact, growing year after year, so that by the end of fifth grade, low-income youth are actually 2-3 grade levels behind their peers.
“If their basic reading skills and basic math skills are not there, they are going to fail and wind up not attending school or act out in school,” Tomlinson said. “The solution is engaging low-incoming kids in high-quality, rigorous summer learning opportunities for about 120 hours.”
The program at Broughal is a culmination of three years of summer learning awareness efforts with school district and community partners through the Lehigh Valley Summer Learning Coalition (LVSLC), and data analysis to identify how many low-income youth in Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton need quality summer learning opportunities. A 2014 LVSLC summer provider survey showed that only 1 in 3 low-income youth were engaged in summer learning programs, and most without the right dosage to fight the Summer Slide. “We know what the solution is, we just don’t have the resources,” Tomlinson said. “We’re really excited to see it put in place this summer.”
Outside partners were able to come aboard to help enhance and flesh out the program. Penn State Lehigh Valley will offer a science course at the school and will also take students on a field trip to the Penn State campus. A robotics course is also being offered as part of the program.
Broughal will serve as a pilot program for the initiative to see if and how UWGLV moves forward with similar programs, Tomlinson explained. “We want to make sure we’re putting the right pieces together in the right way. We’re really looking at all the components of it,” she said. “We’re hoping to look for other funders to support a similar program at Northeast Middle School, which is another high-needs school in Bethlehem, and maybe bridging over toward Allentown and Easton as well.”