Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Summer Meals: More Than A Free Lunch

Hunger doesn’t take a vacation when school lets out! As a result, the summer months are a critical time to provide low-income children, who depend on the free and reduced price breakfast and lunch programs during the school year, with nutritious food.  The D.C.Free Summer Meals program not only fills the nutrition gap for children under eighteen years of age, but also generates significant amount of federal dollars for summer youth education and recreation programs. This summer, the District is on track to provide 1.3 million meals and bring over $3 million dollars in federal funding. 

On top of combating hunger the D.C. Free Summer Meals program also helps to combat obesity. More and more children in the United States and in the District are becoming obese—and overweight children tend to  continue this trend into adulthood. Children gain weight three times faster during the summer months, gaining as much weight during the summer as they do during the entire school year, even though the summertime is three times shorter. This is due in large part to the inactivity many children and youth experience over the summer months, but nutrition contributes to this as well. When kids have limited healthy options at home, they go for the cheap stuff (think chips, sugary drinks, candy bars) and their health is clearly affected.

D.C. Free Summer Meals has been ranked the best summer food  program in the country for seven consecutive years for reaching the highest percentage of low-income children. Despite this fact, many more District children could benefit from the summer meal program. We know that healthy young people are the foundation of engaged young people and this applies as much during the summer as it does during the school year.By creating opportunities to provide children with healthy food, physical activity, and educational enrichment, children can continue to learn and stay safe when school is not in session. There are over 160 “open’ sites throughout the district, meaning children come to the site and receive a free meal without prior registration. This is an invaluable resource in fighting hunger here in the District, but also in supporting the development of young people year round.

Special thanks to Alyia-Smith Parker from DC Hunger Solutions for contributing to this post!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why DC Needs More Summer Learning

This week DCAYA was featured on the National Summer Learning Association and the Walmart Foundation's "Smarter Summers" blog so this is a cross-posting from NSLA!  You can see the original post here.

What’s your favorite summer memory from childhood? Was it going to the beach? Heading off to sleep away camp? Maybe it was playing on a sports team, or spending some time at the library? Many of us have great memories of summers past when the end of the school year meant no more homework, and the beginning of free time to use however we (or in most cases, our parents) wanted. What many of us might remember less fondly, or not at all, is how hard it was to go back to school in the fall, and remember everything we learned just a few months prior.
That thing that we remember with a lot less nostalgia is something called summer learning loss.
Take an average student in D.C. who is considered low-income: the child will enter school at age 5 (likely already academically behind his middle- and high-income peers), and will lose two months worth of grade level knowledge and skills in both reading and math every year as he progresses through the elementary years. The learning loss that accumulates through elementary school will undoubtedly impact this child’s academic achievement in middle and high school, and can even have an effect on whether this student will earn a diploma and move on into post-secondary opportunities.
So what’s the moral of the story? Stemming the learning loss that occurs over the summer months is imperative if we want to improve academic achievement. This is especially true in cities like D.C. with a high percentage of the low-income students who are less likely to be engaged in the range of cultural, athletic, and social activities (trips to the museum, theater, science camp, and all-star teams) than their middle- and high-income peers.
Engaging students in high-quality summer learning programs that merge experiential learning into core standards and skills, and are complemented by diverse enrichment activities, equips these students with the academic skills and confidence they need to tackle the coming school year. This combination is critical. Students need to be engaged and interested in the learning process, and stimulated by new experiences that give them a vision for their future, but also help them advance academically.
The good news in all of this is that we do have programs that blend enrichment with academics in the District. Programs like KidPower DC andBrainfood teach students the value of nutrition, entrepreneurship, and service learning in the summer on top of their year-round afterschool programming. Other programs like DC ScoresHigher Achievement, and New Community for Children offer exciting summer sports like soccer and football, field trips across the region, and opportunities to expand on the reading, math, and science skills students have acquired during the school year. Urban Alliance andMartha’s Table teach vital career and life skills, and there are numerous other programs in D.C. that provide high quality experiences in the summer, but we can’t list them all!
The return on investment in these types of interventions is vast; particularly in cities like D.C. where anything we can do to even the academic playing field, and improve our graduation rate, reaps lasting benefits in the short, medium, and long term. Sadly, summer school at DCPS will see another budget reduction, receiving only $2,350,000 compared to the $4,596,000 allocated last fiscal year. Our city like many others has faced budget shortfalls, and tough decisions that have resulted in a gradual divestment in high-quality summer programming.
We are literally undoing the gains our students are making during the school year by not providing them with structured learning opportunities year-round. By funding a more robust system of summer education opportunities, D.C. can counter the trend of slumping student achievement. Is it the silver bullet to all of D.C.’s education woes? No, probably not. Nothing is that simple. However, as the research increasingly demonstrates, smart, creative planning, and high-quality summer programming is certainly a great place to start.
Visit the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates website to learn more.