Access to Camp Combats Summer Learning Loss

Summer vacation is supposed to be a relaxing, idyllic time away from school for students.  But the reality for many low-income children is a summer with too little stimulation and lack of access to enriching summer activities.

That reality leads to the phenomenon commonly known as summer learning loss: Many students head back to school in August about a month behind where they were when school ended, according to studies by Duke University professor Harris Cooper.

Low-income and at-risk students fare the worst. Their middle- and upper-income counterparts often spend the summer at a series of enriching summer camps, where hands-on learning and new experiences keep them stimulated. Low-income parents often have to cobble together whatever childcare they can afford to bridge the summer months, negatively affecting their education come fall.

“On average, achievement test scores decline between spring and fall, and impact can differ based on a child’s economic background,” Cooper said. “Low-wealth children continuously show losses in reading scores.”

Triangle Community Foundation’s Send A Kid to Camp program, which started in 1984 as a way to provide at-risk children with an affordable summer camp, is now partnering with organizations aiming to combat learning loss.

“It is important to us that we focus on summer learning loss, and filling that gap, as a part of our Send A Kid To Camp program, so that we can ensure each child in our region has a successful academic path to the future,” said Lori O’Keefe, president and CEO of Triangle Community Foundation.

Summer learning loss affects more than 25 million low-income public school students every year, according to the National Summer Learning Association. This can affect future academic achievement and employment opportunities.

“The long summer vacation disrupts the rhythm of instruction, leads to forgetting, and requires time be spent reviewing old material when students return to school in fall,” Cooper said.

Send A Kid to Camp provides grants to nearly 20 camps in surrounding North Carolina counties. Camp Wind Eagle, a Center for Human-Earth Restoration (C.H.E.R.) camp, is one of the grant recipients working with local children this summer.

C.H.E.R. is providing three weeks of nature enrichment camp for up to 65 city kids in the YMCA of Wake County who may not otherwise have such an opportunity.  “Wind Eagle” is the Native American name used to describe strength and power.

“All kids should be able to see themselves as empowered to understand and conserve nature – the environment – as we go into the future,” said Iris Senzig, chief operating officer at C.H.E.R. “Camp Wind Eagle brings first observation skills, some basic scientific knowledge of water quality, soils, birds, mammals through “fun” activities (actually known as simple experiments). But we call it fun to disguise the knowledge.”

Send A Kid to Camp also partners with the Kiwanis Club of Raleigh, a volunteer organization that provides grants to local organizations that benefit children. The program aligns with the Kiwanis’ mission of providing leadership skills to children, Senior Vice President Helen Ballentine said.

“It opens the door to those children that may not otherwise be able to attend a camp, so it fills a much needed gap in our community and makes a difference in the lives for those children that attend,” Ballentine said. “Any time you can have a positive influence (or) impact in a child’s life, it’s meaningful and worthwhile.”

The Foundation relies on donors to help expand their grants to new program partners every year. To donate, please visit here.