For low-income kids, the oncoming summer vacation can bring forth different feelings than it does for privileged students. Due to a lack of accessibility, availability, and financial resources, low-income students often don’t have equal summer learning opportunities as privileged students, which contributes to increased summer learning losses and puts them at a disadvantage at the start of each new school year. Some of these students care for younger siblings all summer. Others play the role of parent to parents who may struggle with addiction or other issues. Others are in foster families or are raised by a grandparent because their parents are in prison or not fit to raise them.
This year, teen unemployment rates are soaring between 23.2 – 23.8 percent 1, which may prove to be even more problematic for low-income teens looking to work more hours to contribute to the family, make money for the upcoming school year, or to simply keep busy and off the street.
Many communities offer a number of ways for students to learn and grow this summer. In some cities, like Denver, La Casa/Quigg Newton Medical Facility is promoting reading by distributing LifeBound books to parents and students who are their patients. Many of these Spanish speaking patients are encouraged to read with their kids, improving both their English language skills and their overall literacy. Public libraries are reinventing themselves as well. The Omaha Public Library is running a youth program for more than 1700 students including some programs for parents. Housing Projects, which have been hit hard by a dip in federal funds for GED, computer skills, and financial literacy classes, are discovering new ways to promote reading and learning.
Beyond these initiatives, parents, and students can use the following ideas to make a summer activity schedule. Educators who work in low-income area can use the following ideas to generate a specific list of things to do in their students’ area during the summer months that keep them active, learning, and growing in diverse and challenging ways:
K-8 Student Specific
- Summer Advantage USA is a 5-day a week summer learning camp for low-income students in grades K-8. In 2012, programs will be held in Colorado, Indiana, and Illinois. Registration closes at the end of May. Learn more about Summer Advantage USA.
- Search for summer camps in your area serving low-income children or programs that offer scholarships to low-income kids.
High School Student Specific
- Find out if your area has a Youth Employment Program over the summer. Many programs allow kids to earn money while gaining real-world experience.
- Go to your community center and ask what volunteer positions are open for the summer.
- See my article “Riding the Waves of High Teen Unemployment: Turning the Tide into Turbulent Waters” for summer learning opportunities for teens that can help advance them in school and career.
All Student Levels
- Visit a book drive to stock up on books for summer reading.
- Gather bookstore calendars to keep track of free events for younger students and lectures for older students.
- Stay up to date on the happenings at your neighborhood library, and take advantage of classes, lectures, concerts, and events.
- Join a community sport.
- Join a program like the Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc., Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc.
- Check the community calendar for events.
- Take advantage of free days at museums, zoos, etc.
If you want to organize a summer learning program for your community, the National Summer Learning Association outlines their quality standards for a summer learning program on their website that will help you answer important questions about the mission and vision of your program. You don’t need to be put on a big event to make a big difference. Providing students with reading materials, or the resources to find them, can make an enormous impact on their learning retention and growth during the summer months. Low-income students deserve the same opportunities as America’s affluent. With some creativity, imagination, discipline, and connections, these students can carve their own experiences which will benefit them for years to come.
1High Teen Unemployment Could Hurt Future Job Growth,” by Danielle Kurtzleben. 15 March 2012. US News. Accessed on 23 April 2012. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/03/15/high-teen-unemployment-could-hurt-future-job-growth