It’s finally summer, school’s out, vacations are at hand - and it’s time to work together to ensure our kids retain what they’ve learned during the school year.
Numerous studies show that all young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer, including losing as much as two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computational skills. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.
This is a main focus of our work at Berkshire United Way and something our partners throughout the county are focusing on to help keep our kids on track.
We know that students from middle-class or upper-income households benefit from enriching activities during the summer, such as family trips and visits to museums. These students return to school in the fall with less of an academic gap, while their peers from low-income households have slid backward. Providing academic and enrichment opportunities for all kids regardless of economic status is a key part of closing the achievement gap.
We just hosted a huge National Summer Learning Day event with more than 100 children and families at Wahconah Park in Pittsfield on the first day of summer -- that emphasized raising awareness around what literacy-rich opportunities are available to parents who, once school gets out, find themselves asking, "What am I going to do with my kids over the next eight weeks?" You might be surprised just how much there is to do over the summer to help your kids avoid the slide, and how many free opportunities there are.
Because it can be difficult to know where to start looking for these activities, we are working to position Berkshire Family Focus online, a strong community partner, as a clearinghouse for summer learning opportunities with your kids throughout the county. Go to berkshirefamilyfocus.com to view their calendar of events, resources and more as a one-stop shop for parents looking for fun, quality experiences with and for their kids over the next eight weeks.
Also, Mary Pope Osborne, the world famous author of the Magic Tree House children’s book series, on May 17 visited South Congregational Church, where she read to hundreds of children and families and committed to donating 1,500 copies of her books to low-income children attending summer programs throughout Pittsfield. This tremendous generosity has helped the Pittsfield Promise create a summer learning curriculum affecting hundreds of kids citywide at three Title I schools; child care centers; the Pittsfield Library; summer camps, the Pittsfield Parks Department and more.
The curriculum was established with professional support from Berkshire United Way, the backbone organization for the Pittsfield Promise, which included linking the curriculum to the Massachusetts Common Core standards, and infusing the Magic Tree House series content into the programming. We’re also establishing an evaluation tool that will measure the program outcomes and will document the curricula as they move from pilot programs to sustainable, quality summer leaning activities.
To round things out, we’re investing in many other summer programs, from St. John’s Lodge at Pitt Park to the Dalton CRA, and Railroad Street Youth Project and Berkshire South in Great Barrington. As always, these funded partner organizations are tracking outcomes to gauge the impact of their program, in these cases to ensure we are reversing the summer slide for our children and youth.
You can get engaged, too! There’s always a chance to lend a hand, support your neighbors, and take a stand. Head to our website, berkshireunitedway.org, for volunteer opportunities, summer learning activities listings and calendars, and connect with us on Facebook to get regular updates on what this community is doing to turn the summer slide into the summer glide.
Kristine Hazzard is president and CEO of Berkshire United Way, berkshireunitedway.org.