By Jessica Woltjen, Outreach Manager
The heat is at its peak. Stores are full of notebooks and folders featuring everything from the Avengers to Elsa. Kids are getting restless. It can only mean one thing. Summer must be winding down.
As young people head back to school in the coming weeks, it is important to note that low-income youth will already be starting off at a disadvantage to their middle- and high-income peers. During the summer, middle- and high-income students are gaining knowledge through a myriad of experiences – going on vacation, attending museums, and having access to books and other learning materials. Low-income students often lack opportunities during the summer and actually start the school year off in a worse position than where they finished the previous school year. This is often referred to as the summer slide and accounts for about two-thirds of the achievement gap in ninth grade reading. Quality summer programs can drastically help mitigate these effects for low-income youth. Access to summer programs for all of Georgia’s youth has improved in recent years, but we still have a long way to go.
In addition to not having the same educational experiences as their peers, too many low-income students in Georgia will have spent the summer not knowing where their meals that day are coming from. During the school year, these students often rely on the free and reduced lunch program to receive regular healthy food. When the last school bell rings, many children lose this access to regular, healthy meals. The Summer Food Service Program seeks to help this problem by providing low-income children with free meals during the summer. Through the Summer Food Service Program, over 1,600 sites across Georgia serve approximately 115,000 children on a daily basis over the summer. Despite this, only 1 in 7 of Georgia’s children who receive free and reduced lunch during the school year receives a meal through the Summer Food Service Program. Current proposed legislation, the Summer Meals Act, seeks to improve this by increasing access in rural communities and decreasing administrative barriers.
Summer learning loss and lack of access to healthy meals during the summer do not act in a vacuum. Kids need a healthy meal to be able to learn effectively and shouldn’t have to go to a separate location to receive a healthy meal than where they learn and grow over the summer. Summer learning programs can do just that by not only providing rich learning experiences, but a healthy meal as well. A lot of youth-serving organizations all across Georgia already do this. For example, a public library serves as a summer meal site providing lunch to children and then hosts a storytelling hour afterwards. A basketball camp helps kids not only stay physically active and learn new skills, but eat healthy as well by acting as a summer meals site.
Let’s make sure that we nourish the minds and the bodies of Georgia’s youth and encourage our Congressmen to see the connection between summer learning and summer meals in considering the Summer Meals Act. Only then will every student be able to start the school year off ready to learn with a healthy body and mind.
This blog was written as a part of the Afterschool Alliance’s blog-a-thon on July 30th.