By Shelley Hoss
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No, really. Kids need to be challenged when school is out to prevent academic skills from sliding.
The serene days of summer; when months of downtime blend together and school-weary students haven’t a care in the world. This storybook scenario is not the reality, however, for many students, particularly those at risk of dropping out.
Low-income youth are extremely likely to experience a “summer slide,” in which critical learning gained during the academic year is lost because of a lack of mental challenges. This leaves students a step behind their peers when the school year begins.
“Summer-learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading,” according to summerlearning.org.
“Disadvantaged youths barely maintain their education levels while their more well-off counterparts progress,” according to the website.
Dawn S. Reese, executive director and co-chief executive of The Wooden Floor in Santa Ana, concurs.
“Lower-income students who have parents that work sometimes two to three jobs have a lot of downtime in front of the TV, or they might end up out in the community where they can get into trouble,” she says. “They are not being challenged physically or mentally.”
Reese said families with higher incomes can provide access to camps and activities, so the children don't experience that academic reversal.
But passionate educators and nonprofit leaders are rallying to fill the gap.
Summer Matters, headed by the state superintendent of public instruction, is the first statewide campaign aimed at broadening quality summer education for all students. And here in Orange County, a number of nonprofit organizations provide innovative summer education programs, including standouts like The Wooden Floor and Girls Inc.
The Wooden Floor was founded in 1983. Each year, it gives hundreds of underserved local children the opportunity for an intensive, long-term dance education supported by academic and family services aimed at helping students realize their full potential. Included in their academic curriculum is a five-week summer workshop in reading, math and sciences to maintain academic performance.
The Wooden Floor’s results have been profound. Since 2005, 100 percent of its participants have graduated high school on time and have pursued higher education.
Orange County is also home to a thriving chapter of the national organization Girls Inc. Since 1954, the Costa Mesa-based Girls Inc. of Orange County has been inspiring girls ages 6 to 18 to develop all facets of their character and strength, with programs such as Eureka!
“Eureka! is a year-round series for middle through high school girls that includes specific curricula to help girls develop a sense of self by exploring what it means to be a ‘strong, smart and bold’ girl,” says Lucy Santana, CEO of Girls Inc. of Orange County. “The summer segment includes class work on local college campuses.”
As part of the program, 40 local high school girls will be placed in externships with major O.C. companies.
“We focus in the areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and stress hands-on activities through forensics, oceanography and architecture, among other disciplines,” Santana said. “We include sessions on fitness, nutrition, life skills/personal development activities that encourage girls to be healthy, strong and self-confident.”
“At-risk kids can get a long-term vision for their futures by experiencing what their futures could be,” Reese said. “By stimulating their minds and making sure they're focused on both mental and physical activity, it helps them not take their eye off their goals.”
For more information about these exemplary organizations, go to thewoodenfloor.org and girlsinc-oc.org. To learn more about the achievement gap for Orange County students and how you can help, please go to ConnectOC.org.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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