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Summer Learning is Important to Student Success

May 16, 2012

By Susan Hildreth
Director, IMLS

In the coming days and weeks, millions of K-12 students will celebrate the end of the school year, but behind the celebration are some pretty grim statistics. Not all of these students will have equal access to summer learning opportunities and the impact of that lack of opportunity is much greater than you might expect. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement. And the alarming thing is: that loss is cumulative. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college. By middle school, many kids will be hopelessly behind, putting the chance of entering college or even graduating from high school at risk.

So it is no small thing that libraries and museums are hard at work creating places and programs that spark curiosity and help children keep learning. In libraries across the country, summer reading programs reach millions of children. Libraries and museums provide opportunities to play, connect with peers, and create.

All 50 states, American Samoa, and the Mariana Islands participate in the Collaborative Summer Library Program. This organization, begun in 1987, provides libraries with materials to carry out a successful program.

For example, in 2011, there were approximately 985,000 children in the Florida program, which partnered with schools, joint use libraries, military base libraries, and juvenile institutions to promote the program. The Miami Dolphins Foundation and the Dairy Council of Florida supported the program in 2011 and will do so again in 2012.

In Louisiana reading programs are offered for children in pre-K through grade 6, teens in grades 7-12, and adults. Children registering with the Talking Books and Braille Library are encouraged to participate as well. In 2011, there were 7,016 children programs with an attendance of 233,097.

In New York, Jeffrey W. Cannell, Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education in Albany and Acting State Librarian says that “During the summer, children and families have made reading for fun a top New York State activity. Taking full advantage of what public libraries in New York State offer results in record participation in the statewide summer reading program. This involvement with reading during the summer months leads to better academic performance when children return to school in the fall.”

The Children’s Museum of Houston “vows to wow during its 2012 Summer of Fun! From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, the museum will open its doors 7 days a week to uphold YOUR right to fun.” The museum promises “a dedicated daily itinerary, along with weekly themes, special guests and live performances combined with exhilarating exhibits and tantalizing activities.”

Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California will offer read-a-thons, preschool story time with a focus on preliteracy skills, pillows and PJ’s movie nights, a creative writing club, and digital literacy classes in their new computer center. Its series of traditional Washoe seasonal cultural activities, expressed through language, art, stories, crafts, and songs appropriate for each season, will culminate in a summer cultural fair with the theme “Celebrate Our Roots.”

National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD’s Henry Hall Program’s Watershed Wonders summer camp provides opportunities for middle school students from eleven inner city schools to continue their engagement with the aquarium through their college years. The Watershed Wonders camp—a four-day, nonresidential kayaking experience allows participants to study different Chesapeake Bay watershed environments. The project aims help create a new generation of environmental stewards and perhaps even scientists.

Please let us know what your library or museum is doing to help level the playing field for children without opportunities for summer learning.