Commentary: Summer education programs can pay big dividends

Earlier this month, the Andy Roddick Foundation kicked off its third annual Summer Learning Program for 90 students at Pecan Springs Elementary in East Austin. Summer learning is a critical component of the foundation’s work to help every child discover the thing they were born to do. Research shows that high quality summer learning programs boost children’s reading and math skills, improve their relationships with adults and peers, and keep them safe, healthy and physically active.

Summer learning works.

Unfortunately, too many children and youth in Central Texas do not have access to high-quality learning opportunities that will keep their hard-earned academic skills sharp.

It’s like a school’s front doors. During the school year, the doors are open and all children have access to learning opportunities and resources because of equal access to public education. But during the summer, the doors are locked for children in neighborhoods that have been left out.

For instance, in Central Texas alone, more than 100,000 school-age children lack access to multiweek summer programs. Summers without quality learning opportunities put our youth at risk for falling behind — year after year — in core subjects like math and reading. By fifth grade, cumulative years of summer learning loss can leave youth in underserved neighborhoods up to three years behind their peers. As a result, despite our city’s growing technology sector, too many of our youth fail to enter the workforce with the skills and education needed to succeed.

When the foundation made Austin its home in 2012, the first thing we did was conduct an assessment of the kinds of programs and resources that were available to children. We found while after-school programs were abundant in the city, few were offered in the city’s east side. Even more startling: Few programs were available during the summer. Families pointed to cost, a lack of transportation, location and unsafe environments as reasons their children did not participate in summer programs.

Responding to our community’s needs, the foundation in 2014 began to bring after-school and summer learning programs to parts of Austin that had been left behind. Today, the result is we are making a difference in stemming learning loss and closing the achievement gap.

There is evidence of the program’s success: a daily average attendance of 93 percent (compared to the national average of 48 percent for out-of-school time programming), an annual participant retention rate of 98 percent, an annual staff retention of 72 percent, and parent and child participant satisfaction rates of 100 percent. One-hundred percent of children also said they feel that they are ready for the new school year, are focused on succeeding in school and have formed college-going goals.

Many states are taking action to improve access to high-quality summer learning programs. Yet, Texas has work to do to fund after-school, summer and expanded learning programs in a way that schools don’t have to choose between investing in the school day, after-school and summer learning.

The Andy Roddick Foundation has made the investment, and we know there is much more to do. But private funding alone is not enough. We have to look at how to make better use of federal, state and private dollars to ensure all children are prepared for that moment when find what they were meant to do. If we, as a state and community, invest in summer, we will forever change the course of our children’s lives and the future of our world.

Roddick is a world champion tennis player and founder and chairman of the Andy Roddick Foundation. Richard Tagle is the foundation’s chief executive officer.

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