Turning Summer Break Into Summer Rebuilding

Turning Summer Break Into Summer Rebuilding

Summertime Student Options

When I was a kid, my summer vacation was very much a planned event, and there was never a question about what I would be doing: GETTING A JOB! I had a middle class, suburban upbringing, but my parents came from very poor beginnings. They were clear about their expectations that I not waste my summer in front of the TV but, instead, find some kind of work to do. With that, I had a paper route at the age of 13 and a proper job at 16. I even lied about my age (which was easier in the 1970s) to get a job as a laundry person in a hotel.

The idea of having a job overshadowed any other thoughts or interests, really. You just didn't worry about learning new things or retaining what you learned in school that year...school was school and summer was work - It was a different time.

This summer, young people across the country will spend their newly free days engaging in activities that either reinforce or weaken what they learned during the school year. For many students, where they live and how wealthy their household is still determines thier summer activities and learning possibilities. Students in urban areas and higher-income families can choose from summer sports, sleepaway camps, dance lessons, summer SAT intensives, a “trans-Atlantic voyage on a 112-foot yacht manned by 24 high schoolers” and other enriching and educational activities.

Students in rural areas like California's Central Valley, on the other hand, may have fewer choices. When ZeroDivide asked the superintendents of 20 rural schools in Fresno what the majority of their students would be doing this summer, 54 percent said “hanging out,” while only 23 percent said working summer jobs and 15 percent said attending an educational summer program. One superintendent shouted from the crowd that only those students who could find summer jobs would be working this summer. Unemployment is another big issue facing rural areas like Fresno, where the unemployment rate was 15.2 percent in 2012.

The “Summer Slide”

In an April 27th article in The New York Times entitled “No Rich Child Left Behind,” Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon points to significant differences in the amount of time spent with parents and time spent on “enrichment activities” as the main causes of disparities in educational achievement between wealthy and poor students.

The summer months can be a critical period of “summer slide” or skill-building. A newly published book, Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap, discusses the effects of summer vacation on the reading abilities of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, with the editors writing that “summer reading loss accounts for roughly 80 percent of the reading achievement gap between more and less economically advantaged children.”

How can we increase educational and workforce opportunities for young people in our nation’s rural and underserved areas? As a staff member of ZeroDivide, you may have guessed my proposal. By providing students with access to broadband and a device, we enable them to participate in a nearly endless array of enriching summertime activities, like supplemental math lessons, educational games, second or third language courses, a global pen pal program, music mixing and opportunities to be citizen journalists. These activities and programs use the Web and digital devices to break down barriers of time and distance for youth. This is especially critical for young people living in rural areas, where a broadband-connected computer may be the only connection to life outside their small town. This type of tech is a powerful antidote to the “summer slide.”

Promising Interventions

The significance of this has not gone unnoticed by city, state and federal governments, nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. Ford Foundation’s More and Better Learning Time initiative is geared toward “reinventing” public schools in high-poverty areas with programs that provide additional learning time, 21st-century skills and out-of-school or anytime learning opportunities. Similarly, ConnectEd’s Linked Learning program uses virtual apprenticeships and web-based mentoring as two tools to help high school students prepare for college, technical education and careers. (Read our interview with David Yanofsky, the Director of Media and Youth Development at ConnectEd). Upward Bound also provides rural students with additional support to prepare them for college.

These and other tech-enabled opportunities are crucial for youth, but we can’t lose sight of the needs of kids who are expected to find a summer job like I was. A Fresno-based group we work with, Center for Multicultural Cooperation (CMC), has a great program called Youth Empowerment Studios that provides just this type of opportunity. The program teaches social media to young folks and provides them with local employment in the Valley, using technology to stop the summer slide through educationally enriching summer work.

By supporting these types of programs, superintendents, teachers and parents can help rural and underserved students make additional gains over the summer, helping to decrease the achievement gap. ZeroDivide is committed to working with interested organizations to leverage technology in ways that increase opportunities for youth.

I can only imagine what the summers of my youth might have been like if I had had access to the kinds of tools and technology we have today. Maybe I would have worked a summer job that applied my skills in ways that reinforced the classroom learning of the past year, stemming my own “summer slide.” Instead of doing hotel laundry, I might have used a video camera and YouTube to share the stories of the other people working in that hotel... But it was a different time. Luckily, in today’s world, kids who can get access to technology have nearly endless opportunity! I may have missed out, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure today’s kids don’t!

David Veneziano is the CFO/COO at ZeroDivide and has more than 27 years of financial and operations experience in corporate banking, investing and nonprofit finance and operations.