A Slippery Slope: Area Nonprofits Collaborate to Address Summer Slide

In case you missed it, July 12 is National Summer Learning Day, and retired Allen ISD superintendent Dr. Ken Helvey weighs in on how area nonprofits like Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas are collaborating to reduce summer learning loss.

Lauren Watts, a Plano area high school sophomore and Girl Scout Senior, aspires to enter the medical field. Eager to connect to an opportunity that would help her to better understand her desired profession, she signed up for a pediatric job shadowing program at City Hospital at White Rock offered exclusively to high school girls through the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas Girl Scout Leadership Institute.  

Lauren had the opportunity to visit the OBGYN floor, visiting with a 16-year-old who had just delivered a baby – a powerful encounter between teens. During her visit on the ER floor, she witnessed how sonograms were used to monitor a baby in-utero. She was able to scrub-in and hold pre-mature babies in the neonatal unit. At the cap of her 4.5 hour shift, Lauren witnessed a caesarean section.

“This rotation influenced me greatly and helped me understand what exactly I want to do with my career. This was definitely one of the best things I have ever done while being a Girl Scout,” said Watts.

The cost? Free.

Summer experiences like the ones afforded to Lauren through the Girl Scout Leadership Institute, in conjunction with community partners like City Hospital, help girls apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world experiences.  They also help students make the connection to the required education and technical skills needed to be competent and proficient in a job. The reality though, is that the majority of students, especially those from low-income households, spend their summer at-home, or working minimum wage jobs to help pay household bills.

Summer slide is a term used to describe how students, especially those from low-income families, lose achievement gains forged during the prior academic year, often resulting in students starting the next academic year months behind. The lazy days of summer are a great way to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the school year, but if the rigor of the classroom is substituted with video games, television, too much sleep and little mental or physical stimulation, students will be underprepared to start school in the fall. Willingham 2011, Why Don’t Students Like School, points to practice as a significant contributor to good, long lasting and effective, cognitive transfer. Learning developed to a habitual level, through consistent engagement in challenging experiences, is the key to developing a mind that persists, adapts, creates, and thinks critically.

The National Summer Learning Association sheds light on a growing problem among American families today. During the school year, children of varying income levels perform at approximately the same rate. But, when the doors to the school shut for the summer, and the average cost of summer learning programs hover at $288 per week, the increasing majority of our population from single-income households struggle to find low-cost, quality care for their children. And the achievement gap widens.

Dallas is no stranger to this conversation. For the past several years, The Dallas Independent School District engaged in a longitudinal national research study with the RAND Corporation. Initial findings, in the 2011 Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning, noted that partnerships with school districts and community-based organizations were able to provide cost-efficient summer programs. The report also offered insight into successful summer program structure including enrichment programming, fun activities, transportation, and full-day program options — criteria not all school districts can meet on their own given the lack of government funding allocated to after-school and summer programs.

Summer learning loss and the achievement gap create challenges for our educators. According to the National Summer Learning Association, the “cumulative effect is a crisis in the making: by the fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers.” This compounding effect makes it even more evident why students are falling behind in the classroom, why math and reading test scores fail to significantly improve, and why our school districts continue to struggle with recidivism rates.

The State of Girls:  Emerging Truths and Troubling Trends report released in 2017 by The Girl Scout Research Institute, ranks the state of Texas forty-second in the nation based on thirteen measures of girls’ well-being. The study offers a bleak picture of girls’ performance in the classroom. In Texas, sixty-seven percent of fourth grade girls are not proficient in reading (compared to 61% nationally), and sixty-seven percent of eighth grade girls are not proficient in math. These statistics have not changed since 2007.

There is hope. The nonprofit sector in Dallas is rising to the occasion — and forging solutions to address this systemic problem. By supplementing programs for low income families, partnering with school districts, and co-creating in a collective impact effort to reduce summer learning loss, program offerings are increasing across the city, engaging more youth in educational experiences during the summer months.

As a board member for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, I’ve witnessed the impact non-profits have when co-creating summer experiences for youth. Girl Scouts focuses on developing a girl’s sense of self, improving upon socio-emotional skills, and couples its leadership development programming with academic partners who can bring quality, fun, hands-on experiences uniquely designed just for girls. Girl Scouts connects with nonprofit organizations focused on STEM Education including iCode, the Perot Museum, SciTech, Shoulders of Giants, Code Stream Studios and more, to enhance their leadership programming. The Girl Scout Leadership Institute for high school girls provides hands-on job shadowing and career mentoring experiences throughout the summer.

As an educator, I’m thrilled to see opportunities for kids to engage in enrichment experiences where they have the chance to creatively explore new subject matter, tackle an obstacle or learn a new skill in hands-on environments.  These programs develop crucial skills including grit, comfort taking challenges, and confidence that will support a student from kinder to career. 

If you are a parent — get your kids involved in summer programs. If you’re a part of the corporate community, challenge your company to invest, volunteer, and offer meaningful internships and job shadowing experiences. Educators and community partners should continue to collaborate and provide parents with program options that are affordable and accessible. Early engagement by parents, teachers, and the community is the key to reducing the summer slide – keeping our kids active and learning throughout the summer months.  

To learn more about how your company can provide job shadowing and career mentoring opportunities for girls through the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas’ Leadership Institute, visit www.gsnetx.org/gsli.

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