Summer Learning is a Sound Investment

June 17, 2015

Photo credit: Flickr The Bakken Museum. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 General license.

As summer begins, kids around the country rejoice. School is out and it’s time for camp and vacations and other fun and enriching experiences. In the early years, before they moved to summer jobs and internships, my children participated in many enriching summer experiences. 

But for the 51 percent of public school children living in poverty in this country, it’s an entirely different story.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, without practice, all students lose some of what they learned during the school year, particularly in math. Research also indicates that low-income youth lose two to three months in reading achievement while their higher-income peers make slight gains.

Year after year, these losses accumulate and by the end of third grade, four out of every five low-income students fail to read proficiently, making them four times more likely to drop out of high school, and subsequently earn lower wages, experience higher unemployment and incarceration, and be more likely to rely on public assistance. This is all the more heartbreaking knowing that during the school year, these children keep pace with their higher-income peers, making summer a major factor of the income-based achievement – and opportunity – gap.

Summer learning loss is a problem that is solvable. Many school districts, cities, and communities offer free or low-cost programs that deliver reading and math as well as arts and other activities, and serve meals and make time for physical fitness – other essentials that lapse for many poor kids in the summer. But funding is almost always an issue and there aren’t enough programs to meet demand. Even where they exist, there are generally not enough slots for all the kids that want – or need – to attend.

Summer learning programs begin and thrive through cross-sector partnerships: schools, community-based organizations, public housing authorities, public libraries, parks, and city intermediaries working together to provide opportunities for youth. There is no dedicated federal funding stream for summer and programs must braid together funds from a variety of public and private funding sources.

Many states are taking action to improve access to high-quality summer learning opportunities, but there’s a long way to go. Private funding comes from individual donors, foundations, small businesses, and large corporations.

Nonprofit summer programs rely heavily on community partner support in other ways, too – for donations of equipment, supplies, and time. Volunteer mentors are an asset to programs that work to help kids explore new talents and learn about future career options.

For example, NJ LEEP’s College Bound Summer Session, a New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning award winner, connects students with internships and mentors from local law firms. And benefits go both ways. Springboard Collaborative, a program that addresses the reading achievement gap in pre-K to 3rd grade, makes deliberate supply chain decisions to maximize impact on the community and minimize impact on the environment. 

It’s not too late to support a program this summer – or to plan ahead for next year:

  • Invest in your community’s summer learning programs by offering scholarships to young people in need or donate directly to enable local programs to serve more kids.
  • Make summer a season of service – find programs in need of volunteers and provide time for your employees to mentor young people. Visit and search “summer learning” and your state to see where help is needed.
  • Let local schools know about meaningful internships or summer jobs available at your organization.
  • Reach out to your local school district office or your community’s Parks and Recreation Program to determine the needs for art supplies, sports or technology equipment, personal care items, and transportation for field trips.
  • And take the pledge to keep kids learning, safe, and healthy each summer.

Our kids are our future workforce, our future leaders, and future customers. Quality summer learning programs are an investment that will pay big dividends in longer-term academic achievement, workforce development, and ultimately the competitiveness of our nation.

We experience the returns each September as students head back to school well-prepared for the challenges of the year ahead – making them more likely to stay on track for graduation, higher education, and the demanding careers of a global economy.


Jim Quinn is past President of Tiffany & Co. and current board member of the National Summer Learning Association.