By Sarah Lauritsen
The U.S. Department of Education and the National Summer Learning Association hosted students and education leaders from around the country to celebrate National Summer Learning Day. The celebration included a summer youth program demonstration fair, student performances and panels, and remarks from First Lady Michelle Obama. The First Lady highlighted the importance of summer learning programs for students to get ahead or catch up in academics instead of losing knowledge during the three months of summer break. She also noted that the summer months can be used to make connections and network or to work on skills needed for college, such as time management. The First Lady emphasized that by using every minute of every month, students can work to achieve their dreams and maximize their potential.
Communities across the country are participating in National Summer Learning Day to promote summer learning as an important solution to close the achievement gap and to further healthy youth development. By creating summer learning programs, organizations hope to provide resources and opportunities to youth to engage them in the community and help them begin to prepare for college. These resources and programs are particularly necessary in underserved communities that have less access to educational activities in the summer and will help to combat the achievement gap between students of high-income backgrounds and students of low-income backgrounds that grows significantly during the summer months. These educational and cultural activities will allow youth to maintain and build on their academic gains from the school year as well as help to create new skills and experience new things.
Innovations in Civic Participation’s SummerTrek program embraces the various aspects of summer learning while emphasizing the importance of youth engagement through service. Launching in July 2014 at four sites in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, SummerTrek uses a service learning curriculum to challenge middle school students from underserved communities to develop interests and skills to solve problems in their communities, such as bullying, the transition to middle school, and food insufficiency. By the end of the six week program, the students have researched and learned about one of these issues and developed a project to help solve the problem, such as an anti-bullying campaign, a helpful handbook to middle school, or a community garden. Engaging youth from underserved communities in service projects has the benefits of a summer learning program and helps to develop a lifelong interest in civic participation on a local, national, and international level.