Summer Learning Programs Can Help Children Make Up Lost Ground – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Summer Learning Programs Can Help Children Make Up Lost Ground

By Tom Haggard (Guest Blogger)

With hopeful signs that the pandemic’s grip is loosening, we can start to focus on recovery and we have a lot of catching up to do. That’s especially the case with schoolchildren. Despite the heroic efforts of educators across the Commonwealth, many students lost ground over the past year. Far too many are struggling with lost instruction time, social isolation, hunger and mental health challenges. Now more than ever, we need to deliver innovative solutions that will accelerate students’ learning and recovery.

With summer approaching and as we plan for the year ahead, we cannot and should not expect our schools alone to meet the needs of our students and families.

In Kentucky, summer learning and afterschool programs can give students the extra help they need. These programs work so well because, in addition to academic support, often from certified teachers, they offer a fun, informal environment where kids learn together through hands-on, team-building activities. They offer students of all backgrounds new opportunities to explore their interests and dive deep into topics they love in ways not always practical during a typical school day. They complement what kids learn in school without duplicating it.

For instance, students might learn science and nutrition as they plant a community garden and pick up marketing and economics as they sell their crops at a farm stand, gaining writing and technical skills along the way. Research shows that the most effective summer learning programs must be voluntary and offer comprehensive full-day programming that includes academics and enrichment at least five days a week for five weeks. Programs must be free for families and provide free transportation and meals. In addition, strong school-community partnerships are a hallmark of high-quality programs that improve youth outcomes.

And decades of data prove afterschool and summer learning programs support kids’ social and emotional development, accelerate learning gains, improve students’ reading and math skills, and boost on-time graduation.

With the American Rescue plan, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning and supports for all students. The federal stimulus package gives Kentucky’s state and school district leaders decision-making power over more than $2 billion to combat learning loss and meet students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. The act encourages partnerships between schools and youth serving organizations. Now more than ever, it is critical that schools and community-based programs come together to plan for impactful out-of-school time learning opportunities – starting with this summer.

What if we brought certified teachers to where the kids are–at summer camp? What if all summer programs, in and out of school building, had access to a licensed social worker? And what if all kids had access to free transportation to and from their summer learning programs? For example, schools might partner with summer programs to add hands-on, engaging enrichment to school programs and extend programming past typical school day hours. With meaningful collaboration between schools and local community-based afterschool and summer programs, all of these are possible.

We know these partnerships work. In fact, they’ve been more critical than ever during the pandemic, especially for kids who have faced major barriers accessing instruction, working families and parents who need time to seek employment.

But as valuable as our summer and afterschool programs are, they have been historically underfunded in our state, even though 83% of parents in Kentucky overwhelmingly support public funding for afterschool. Many are at risk of losing staff or closing their doors completely, despite the ever-growing demand for them.

In fact, for every Kentucky student enrolled in an afterschool program, four more are waiting to get in. That’s more than 208,000 students who are waiting for an available spot. Kids from low-income families, communities of color and more isolated rural areas are most likely to miss out due to cost and lack of access to programs.

This summer and in the months and years that follow, we can do something extraordinary for our children, our teachers, our parents, and our community. We can ensure that every student has access to high-quality enrichment and care throughout the day.

As Kentucky’s policymakers allocate funding for recovery and school districts determine how to spend those funds, it’s crucial that they partner with and fund summer learning and afterschool programs. Together we can help our kids emerge from this crisis strong, resilient, hopeful and prepared for a bright future.


Tom has been working with afterschool and summer learning programs from the time he was 16 years old.  Since that time, he has risen through the ranks from youth worker to Site Coordinator and all the way up to Associate Director, where he oversaw multiple afterschool and summer learning programs that served over 2,500 students annually.  Tom has presented at local, state and national conferences on a variety of topics around out of school time programming.  He has served on the Kentucky Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers State Advisory Council, currently as co-chair.  During the 2017-2018 school year, he was chosen as one of fifteen Afterschool Ambassadors from around the country by the Afterschool Alliance.

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