Summer break has a profound effect on children: for many, it means plenty of free time, outdoor experiences and playing with friends. Unfortunately, research also tells us that there is a “summer slide,” a loss of academic skills and content taught during the school year. This loss is particularly acute for low-income children, resulting in an increasing achievement gap between those students and their wealthier peers.
Eighty percent of all Providence students receive free or reduced lunch; over the past three summers, up to 58% of students in grades 4–11 demonstrated summer learning loss in reading and up to 52% of students in grades 1–11 showed summer learning loss in math. In an effort to address this issue in our city, Mayor Jorge Elorza convened a Summer Learning Task Force last fall, composed of educational experts, teachers and community leaders who published a report of findings in February.
Based on the recommendations in the report, the City of Providence is collaborating with the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) and local nonprofit community organizations to launch a citywide Summer of Learning campaign to increase student retention of learned material and help students maintain their academic skills over the summer months.
In conjunction with the School Department, the Department of Parks & Recreation, the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) and others, the City will offer a range of summer learning opportunities for students at all grade levels. The Providence Public Library and the Providence Community Library (including the Rochambeau and Fox Point locations) are working with the School Department to expand last year’s Passport to Adventure summer reading program, so that every elementary school student in the PPSD will receive summer reading lists and a summer passport that can be stamped at learning sites across the dity.
And students don’t necessarily have to spend time in classrooms to gain academic and leadership skills; high school students may hone their abilities by running camp programs for younger children or by participating in other work-study experiences. For example, at 360 High School on Hope Street, all students are developing customized summer learning plans with their advisors. They will be setting academic goals as well as goals for work, hobbies, sports activities and leisure time. Tutoring sessions will be offered throughout the summer based upon students’ needs. When they return to school in the fall, students will reflect on the achievement of their goals and their mastery of academic skills over the summer.
Working with the United Way of RI, the City is also putting together an online map so that parents can view summer learning programs available in Providence and across the state. In addition, PASA is providing professional development opportunities for summer learning providers, and City Year Providence will be hosting a Summer Leadership Academy in August for targeted students.
The Providence Summer of Learning campaign has the potential to impact all students, regardless of the neighborhood where they attend school. For example, at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School, less than half of the students in grades 3–5 met or exceeded expectations in literacy on the PARCC test; less than a third of fourth and fifth graders met or exceeded expectations in math. At Nathan Bishop Middle School, fewer than 30% of students in all grades met or exceeded expectations in literacy or math. Keeping students’ academic skills sharp over the summer months can only help to increase student performance throughout the school year.
The City has spearheaded this multi-agency effort to close the achievement gap and expand summer educational offerings throughout the city. Mayor Elorza hopes that, along with the continued free Summer Food Service Program that provides meals to children 18 and younger, “this initiative will result in higher learning outcomes for all of Providence’s youngest residents.”