Rich or poor, every child looks toward summer with an excitement that is unparalleled. A kid from poverty or wealth has expectations about the quality of their summer that is worth interjecting in the debate around academic progress and the gaps that continue to widen. Unlike public policy notes, tweets and perspectives about how the poor repel positive outcomes and experiences in exchange for a dependent lifestyle of public supports; little thought is paid to the summer months and its impact upon student achievement.
Summer is no picnic for the poor. Families scramble to figure out day care and after school care while balancing an already out of balance budget. Extra food has to be purchased; a baby sitter hired or a bouncing schedule between friends and family has to be arranged on top of work and the responsibilities that brings.
Then there is the stress of expectation from the kids. Summer, whether affordable or not, is seen as a time for fun, exploration and experimentation. Dependent upon age, there is the expectation of summer employment- even if there are no jobs and no one is hiring, family vacations, sleep overs, swimming pools, summer camps and just hanging out with friends at amusement parks or other public places. Little regard is given to the economies of their families, kids who are poor dream of the same summer experiences as any other kid. When asked to write about their summer, they want bragging rights that will out do every kid in class. No kid wants to say, “I did nothing.” There is no brag in that.
What then is the real game changer about summer break? How does it contribute to low scholastic scores and disengaged students? It is said that kids in poverty can fall up to three years behind their peers after grammar school and that summer break is the major culprit. Teachers grow increasingly frustrated at the decline in competency after summer break with so many of their youngest kids returning in need of remedial study instead of a plunge forward building on former educational gains.
The issue at hand has very little to do with raw talent, ability or aptitude in general, and everything to do with what happens during summer break. Resources are key when contrasting poor kids to their wealthier counterparts; there is a striking difference between summer experiences that aid in them staying on course academically. For poor kids accessibility, affordability and mobility are the deal breakers.
Access to summer camps and travel cost- a freight they cannot afford. A visit to a museum is out of the question, there are no museums if they live rurally, oftentimes than not, and neither is there swimming pools nor summer camps. So, the reality of summer and learning is that their mobility is restricted. It is bound by their inability to move beyond their own communities; communities that lack the fiscal strength to provide what is needed so all of their kids have summer stories they can brag about.
Rich kids in contrast do have the luxury of travel. They can afford to go camping and to summer camps as well as enjoy technologies that enrich on all scales of learning. All of this is done over the summer and in time to meet the new demands of learning a new school year brings. And it’s not just their money; it is the power of the social capital of their parents and their network of friends, colleagues and other associates who wield power and influence.
Should more affluent kids enjoy incredible summers full of access, affordability and mobility? The answer is yes a million times over. Their parents have worked hard to provide for them to have incredible opportunities, and they should do just that. However, what must be attended to is the degree of difference in educational gains that schools have to deal with after summer break. We all know that there are educational disparities.
Closing the achievement gap is an ongoing work. Being attentive to public policy that facilitates the sustaining of and the widening of the gap is an observation that needs a response. It has been found that summer breaks are deal breakers for kids and in particular, those who are poor and face the brutality of poverty. How then do we respond to summer in a way that equips every child with new opportunities to grow academically? This is a relevant question that every policy maker, and every community must address.
Kids in school are members of community. They exist to provide future leadership that is visionary and transformative. Determining how to intervene in their lives is easy. Figuring out the resources is another. If a “whole community” context is used, finding means to provide them with access, affordability and mobility during summer break becomes less of an issue. It is when the burden to resolve is on the shoulders of a few, that everything falters under the weight of it and at the end, our kids begin another year of school answering the question, “How was your summer,” with the response “I did nothing.”