Research indicates that schools prioritizing SEL can improve academic outcomes for students, but what about outside of school – particularly during the critical summer months? Others, including my colleagues at AYPF, have acknowledged the role out-of-school time (OST) can play in developing SEL skills for youth. But, for millions of low-income youth in America, summer can be a time of struggling to find and afford food as well as a safe place to play, learn, and grow. According to the National Summer Learning Association, “every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains. Most youth lose about two months of math skills in the summer.” Although there is evidence linking high quality summer learning to social, emotional, and academic growth for low-income students, not all young people have access to these opportunities.
Summer learning opportunities, like my own summer camp, are excellent examples of where youth can develop these important skills. According to Morris Cohen, a clinical social worker and writer for Mental Wellness, “summer camp is a key opportunity for kids to develop both sides of their social intelligence by offering them access to many new people and environments.” Before coming to AYPF, I was able to see first-hand how important it is to develop these pertinent skills in our youth. Summer learning staff like myself create lesson plans with clear objectives and intentional opportunities for social and emotional skill-building through fun and games that go beyond the learning that occurs in the classroom during the school year.
These kinds of activities to learn, grow, and explore are valuable experiences for all youth. Unfortunately, not all youth have access to these types of enriching experiences to develop strong SEL skills. Summer learning programs that emphasize SEL can help close the achievement gap that disadvantaged youth face. Youth who face particular challenges with social and emotional competencies stand to benefit immensely from the opportunity to participate in summer learning environments.
One of the main factors for economically disadvantaged households is the cost of summer learning programs. The average summer learning program can cost about $37 per day or $185 per week, and that is not including factors like stay-over camps which can be even more costly. Low-income families may struggle to afford these summer learning opportunities for their children, no matter how beneficial they are. Fortunately, there are resources such as camperships which are camp scholarships to aide youth to participate in summer learning opportunities. In addition, the National Summer Learning Association has a great resource page for communities and families to help get their youth to summer learning programs, as well as resources for communities. While these resources are valuable, we need more like them in order to serve more of the millions of low-income youth without access to summer learning.
Due to the increasing achievement gap among today’s youth, summer learning programs and their focus on SEL development have never been more vital because they have the potential to help youth improve academically and beyond. Summer is a critical time period for engagement and growth for all young people, and economically disadvantaged youth should not be left out or denied this valuable opportunity.