On average, students in the United States lose up to two months of reading skill level each summer, requiring teachers to spend 4-6 weeks of class time at the beginning of each school year to help children catch up. Teachers refer to this as “the summer learning slide,” and unfortunately, the learning loss is cumulative from year to year. If a child doesn’t read during the summer months during the early elementary grades, there is a profound effect during the later elementary and middle-school grades and is a strong predictor of future drop-out rates.
These effects are even more serious for children in low-income communities, who start out with many strikes against them. Significant research shows a strong connection between poverty and academic underachievement. Low-income children enter kindergarten less prepared than more-affluent classmates and struggle to ever catch up. Frequent moves from unstable housing lead to switching schools and putting kids further behind. Food insecurity means that kids are hungry, not an ideal situation for learning. And loving, hard-working parents must work more than a full-time job to provide for their families, meaning there rarely is an adult at home to help with homework or chauffeur to extracurricular activities, even if there were the funds to pay for such enriching activities. All of this matters because education is the key to breaking generational cycles of poverty. If a child is not reading at grade level by the third grade, he or she is 70% more likely to go to prison or live on welfare than to finish high school – a stark reality, indeed.
Several summers ago, we launched the Summer Reading / Learning Loss Prevention Program as a pilot project in Sacramento. The results were outstanding, and we took the program to scale. in 2016, 95% of the children enrolled in LifeSTEPS’s Summer Reading Program maintained their current reading levels (that is, they had no learning loss), and more than half increased their reading by one or more grade levels.
But don’t take our word for it! Here’s what a couple of young scholars at one of our Sacramento sites had to say about the program: