The Huffington Post, July 3, 2017 By
For the more than 25 million low-income public school students in America, summer is many times anything but a vacation. Over the summer break, kids can actually lose what they have learned over the last school year according to the Los Angeles Times. Researchers call this the “summer slide.” And like many cultural disadvantages in our society, it hits poor children harder. As kids from higher-income families actually raise their reading skills during time off, kids from lower-income families lose 2-3 months of reading skills during the summer, which they do not make up the next school year. This means that by the 5th grade, these poorer children can be 2-3 years behind their peers. This also applies to their math skills.
48 million Americans, which include 13 million children, live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. 22 million low-income children from 98,000 schools receive free or reduced-priced meals daily through the National School lunch Program, which is a program established by President Harry Truman in 1946. According to the Food Research and Action Center, once school is out, only 15 children out of every 100 low-income students receive a summer lunch under the Summer Nutrition Programs. One of the reasons for this dramatic drop is the limited number of basic summer programs available in the low- income children’s neighborhoods. Summer meals are provided at community sites like the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches and parks, but these locations don’t add up to the 98,000 schools serving meals during the rest of the year. Also, limited transportation in rural and more spread-out areas reduces participation.
Even though these poor kids aren’t getting nutritious meals, they are gaining weight. Summer Learning reports that children gain weight 3 times faster during the summer months, gaining as much weight during the summer as they do during the entire year, even though the summertime is 3 times shorter. In the USA there are three times more overweight children than there were 20 years ago. The difference between what happens during the school year and the summertime dramatic weight gain can be attributed to a couple of reasons. When kids are in school, they are provided a structured environment where they are constantly supervised, have limited opportunities to eat, and get physical exercise a few times a week. During the summer day, they are watching TV, playing video games and eating chips out of a bag.
Another disconnect during the summer for poorer kids is accessing and using technology. During the school year, using computers and learning through technology is second nature to most schools today. But once kids get out for the summer, many of the poorer kids do not have access at home to these same tools. Going to their local library to interact in proactive ways with the Internet may be the only access poorer kids have with the technology highway. But children in low income neighborhoods often left on their own without direction or with a sibling instead of a parent may never think to go to their library. So they continue to fall behind the more affluent kids in technology, also.
The headline in Bloomberg last month was “Why Aren’t American Teenagers Working Anymore?” Last July 43% of teenagers were working or looking for a job versus 70% in 1989. One theory for this drop is because Americans are working past 65 at the highest rates in the last 50 years, they are squeezing out possible jobs. Another theory is that immigrants are competing with teens for entry level jobs. A third theory is that more affluent parents are pushing their kids to go to summer school, not because they failed a class, but to take enrichment courses to get ahead of their classmates. So cities like Chicago have taken it upon themselves to create summer youth employment programs, run by community based organizations, to put the poorer kids to work. 90% of the kids in these programs participate in the free lunch programs the rest of the year. Participants work for 8 weeks for 25 hours per week at $8.25 in entry level jobs. In a follow up study with the Chicago youth, arrests for violent crime from this group was 42% less than their peers.
Unless you are a business owner, we as individuals cannot make a dent in helping kids during the summer. But there are plenty of organizations we can support by donating that may make a difference in their lives. The National Summer Learning Association focuses on closing the achievement gap for underprivileged youth while providing nutritional meals. No Kid Hungry supports free summer meal sites across the country for needy children. Feed the Children provides meals for hungry kids. And at DollarDays we want to help children in need, so nominate your favorite nonprofit that helps kids here to win one of our $500 shopping sprees this quarter.
The Food Research & Action Center reports that our President’s 2018 budget is going to cut $193 billion out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next 10 years. This will effect funding for school meals, after school and summer meals and child care meals. Our entire society suffers when our poorer kids continue to fall behind academically and physically. We all have to step up this summer to help those kids most in need.