Summer enrichment

May 25, 2017  //  United Way

Look out world! There’s a new engineering partnership that could radically alter our lives.

Or at least it will alter the lives of the aspiring engineers. They’re two 10-year-old boys. The pair participated in a 2016 summer enrichment program focusing on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math). After designing, testing, modifying, and perfecting a wind-powered boat, the boys declared they would become partners and start an engineering firm when they grow up.

Of course, the boys have a long way to go before that dream becomes a reality. But participating in programs like these is vital to getting them there. More specifically, a summer enrichment program. A program that flexes a student’s brain muscles during the summer months.

The summer months aren’t just a gap in the school year. They can be a setback. Over the summer, up to two months of reading skills can be lost. Two and a half months of math skills, vanished. And these add up. Students who experienced summer learning loss fall an average of two years behind their peers by the end of sixth grade.

This phenomenon tends to have a greater effect on low-income students. Their lack of resources and/or unengaged parents take a toll in the summer. By the start of high school, two-thirds of the income-based achievement gap is due to summer learning loss.

The good news: preventing summer learning loss is as easy as A, B, C (literally). Two to three hours a week of mental stimulation is all it takes. Reading, cooking from a recipe, creating a storybook . . . or signing up for a summer enrichment program.

The program our young engineers attended is a perfect example. But don’t think of it as summer school. It was so jam packed with field trips and fun activities that the students didn’t realize they were learning. They even spent time at UNL’s new makerspace — a DIY creation lab that looks like it could be Bill Gate’s work shed.

Community Learning Centers (CLC) offers dozens of similar opportunities across Lincoln. They go beyond basic classwork and focus on allowing students to practice their skills in real-world settings. Lea Ann Johnson, Director of Lincoln’s CLC program, says, “A child who learned about perimeter and area in math during the school year may utilize those skills when designing and building a playhouse in the summer program. A student who has been learning about the scientific process during the school year may utilize those skills when monitoring weather and rainfall during the summer. When these types of teaching strategies and methods are used, children are learning every day, but they do not think of it as ‘school’ because they are having so much fun.”

United Way recognizes the importance of offering this programming in an affordable way. Wende Baker, senior director of community impact, said, “We fund area organizations providing these programs so they can be delivered on a free and/or reduced basis. Many of the Community Learning Centers offer this programming and United Way is happy to be able to help in any way we can.”