To the Editor:
July 13 is National Summer Learning Day, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to raise awareness about the importance of summer learning experiences. The NSLA notes that summer learning loss, the phenomenon where young people lose academic skills over the summer, is “one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate.”
Many of us with sufficient means prevent summer learning loss in various ways: we enroll our children in summer enrichment programs or camps; take them on trips to new places where they learn history, geography, and civics; and supervise their school-assigned summer reading. Unfortunately, many young people lack these options. Economic inequality, communities with limited resources, parents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet with little free time — these are just a few of the reasons that low-income young people do not enjoy the same opportunities.
At the Princeton-Blairstown Center, we are working with young people to combat summer learning loss. Each summer, 500 students — primarily from Trenton and Newark — come to our 264-acre campus in Blairstown, New Jersey for our week-long Summer Bridge Program, free of charge. They spend three hours a day engaged in hands-on literacy; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); and project-based learning; an hour and a half in waterfront activities (swimming/canoeing/kayaking); and three hours a day working on their social-emotional skills through ropes and challenge course activities that focus on leadership, team-building, communication, and problem-solving skills.
To ensure that the learning continues back home, each student is sent home with a book of his or her choice from titles such as The Boy in the Black Suit, Bird, Seedfolks, The Lion Who Stole My Arm, The Color of My Words, Return to Sender, Thaw, Do Not Pass Go, Tall Story, and many more. Research indicates that the best predictor of summer loss or gain is if a child reads during the summer. Additionally, public library use among low-income children drops off when a library is more than six blocks from their home, compared with more than two miles for middle-class children. Most of the young people we serve in Trenton and Newark live more than six blocks from a library.
All young people deserve opportunities for enriching and stimulating summer experiences so that they start the school year ready to learn and compete on an even playing field. In honor of National Summer Learning Day, I urge everyone in our community to support evidenced-based, high-quality summer programs like ours that help to reduce summer learning loss. Our children’s futures depend on it, and so do ours.
Sarah Tantillo, EdD
Board Chair Princeton-Blairstown Center