The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) just published the “annual report” from the first season of its three-year “Smarter Summers” initiative. Supported by an $11.5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, Smarter Summers delivers high-quality summer learning programs to about 20,000 middle school students in ten US cities.

Why do middle school students have a special need for high-quality summer learning? According to NSLA’s website, “Middle school is a time of great risk for children, especially those who are low-income. Summer learning loss contributes to dismal middle-school indicators, causing low-income students to lag as much as 2.5 years behind their higher-income peers by the end of fifth grade. Without summer learning experiences, the achievement gap in literacy between the youth who eventually drop out of high school and those who enter a four-year college widens to almost seven years by ninth grade, creating an unswimmable gulf.”

Smarter Summers is being delivered by four providers. All provide between 150 and 240 program hours (typically 6-hour days for five weeks), free meals for participants, and opportunities for physical activity as well as academics. The average daily attendance rate among participants ranged from 81.5% to an incredible 99.6%, with staff-to-participant ratios of 1:10 to 1:15. The areas served include Los Angeles, Sand Diego and Sacramento counties in California, Detroit, Boston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Indianapolis and Washington, DC.

Among the highlights of the results so far:

  • 65% of Higher Achievement Program’s participants increased their math grades or maintained an A or B average, while 59% did so for reading.
  • Summer Advantage USA students gained an average of 2.1 months of grade-level equivalency in literacy and math skills.
  • 87.5% of THINK Together sites demonstrated student growth in math vocabulary – a 25% increase for seventh graders across all sites.

Parents also responded very positively to the Smarter Summer experience. Based on over 2,000 responses, two out of three parents stated that Smarter Summers was the only affordable summer learning option for their children. 93% of parents would recommend the program to other parents. 82% felt the program helped them focus on their job, job search and/or school work.

76% of survey respondents also felt more involved in their child’s education. Across the programs administered by Summer Advantage USA, for example, 61% of parents participated in two or more program events, and 91% had one or more contacts with a teacher to discuss their child’s performance.

The report summarizes Smarter Summers’ first-year results as follows: “Instead of falling off track during the critical transitions to middle school and high school, these young people are gaining academic ground and invaluable exposure to colleges, careers, and a network of supportive adults.”

At a time when school districts and communities face financial resource constraints, Smarter Summers is providing an excellent option to reduce summer learning loss and guide vulnerable children towards greater academic success.

Do you have experience with summer program and their benefits for middle school kids? Please comment and share what you’ve experienced.

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