ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Award-Winning Programs Demonstrate Excellence in Summer Learning

Post submitted by Gary Huggins, chief executive officer of whole child partner National Summer Learning Association.

Research has shown that every year, most youth lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math skills. Low-income youth lose over two months in reading skills. Called the "summer slide," this loss of academic skills disproportionately affects low-income students, contributing to high dropout rates and an ever-persistent academic achievement gap.

But there is evidence that students can avoid this learning loss by attending high-quality summer programs, which help boost student achievement. Three such programs have recently been chosen by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) for the 2012 Excellence in Summer Learning Awards: the United Way of Santa Barbara County (Calif.) Fun in the Sun Initiative, Ohio State University's LiFE Sports Camp, and the GO Project of Lower Manhattan in New York. These programs all demonstrate effective strategies in curbing the effects of summer learning loss by offering strong, individualized instruction and engaging activities for students.

From reading and writing each day to taking part in activities in technology, engineering, and the arts, students in Santa Barbara's Fun in the Sun Initiative are constantly engaged in fun and educational activities. This program, which serves 250 youth ages 7 to 18 for seven weeks over the summer, also provides an opportunity for students to experience service learning and field trips, from a visit to a railroad museum to a picnic at an ocean-side park. And the results are encouraging. In 2011, 82 percent of participants showed gains of up to 2.1 grade levels in reading comprehension, phonics, and vocabulary skills.

The LiFE Sports Camp, sponsored by Ohio State University's Department of Athletics and the College of Social Work, was also chosen for its approach to summer education. In 2011, a reported 74 percent of participants said they were interested in college because of the program, which is free to all. Serving 600 disadvantaged Columbus youth, ages 9 to 15, for four weeks, LiFE Sports provides a fun and entertaining summer, but most importantly, it teaches participants essential life skills and social competence. Toward the end of the program, young people unite to serve as referees, athletes, and coaches, while others team together and create banners, advertisements, and radio announcements for the LiFE Sports Olympics, which include sports ranging from basketball, football, and lacrosse, to social dance, softball, and swimming.

The GO Project uniquely caters to students in kindergarten through 8th grade who face serious learning challenges in some of Lower Manhattan's high-need schools. For five weeks in 2011, 494 youth attended classes led by certified teachers and specialists who use individualized curricula with a focus on reading, writing, and math. Students, who in 2011 gained an average of two months of skills in reading and four months in math, are also able to participate in enrichment classes, from art and science to martial arts and creative writing.

These leading programs will be honored on October 23 during NSLA's Summer Changes Everything conference in Pittsburgh. If you would like to learn more about the conference, please visit

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