Photo via Flickr user Krzysztof Pedrys.

On May 28, in the heat of the day, more than 100 San Antonio families kicked off their summer at Teach for America’s Summer Activities Fair. Free health screening, financial counseling and enrollment in summer programs were all available to families looking to start the summer right.

Organizations like Teach For America (TFA), Communities in Schools (CIS), and City Year have been seeing great gains as they strive to fill the gaps that exist for students in underserved public schools. Thanks to their mentoring, one-on-one tutoring, and more enthusiasm and dedication than one might have thought possible, kids who started the school year “at risk” are finishing strong.

Now summer break is only days away. Kids and teachers alike are ready to close their textbooks and let the fun begin.

Unfortunately, for many kids, where the fun begins, often, the learning ends.

In the three months of unstructured time there are fewer learning opportunities. It results in what educators are calling the “summer slide.”  Students who do not actively pursue educational activities return to school having lost some of the knowledge they gained in the previous school year. It illustrates the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Image courtesy of the Summer Learning Institute
Image courtesy of the National Summer Learning Association

The losses are profoundly felt in the area of literacy. Without practice, reading skills get rusty. Fortunately, by providing access to books, libraries and non-profits like First Book-San Antonio can do a lot to prevent the slide, San Antonio Public Libraries will launch their reading programs  for kids and teens on Sunday, June 1.

Summers can also widen the gap between privileged kids and those whose families do not have the resources to send their kids to academic camps or travel to learning-rich destinations. A 5th grader whose family takes a trip to Washington D.C. is going to watch history classes come to life amid the museums and monuments.

By providing enrichment activities, summer programs can deepen learning opportunities for kids of every demographic. Summer learning can actually play a vital role in narrowing the achievement gap.

The Teach For America Summer Activities Fair connects families to summer programs.
The Teach For America Summer Activities Fair connects families to summer programs.

In San Antonio, TFA corp members have been so encouraged by the gains they have seen this year, that they decided to combat the summer slide head on. They handpicked the participants in the fair, choosing organizations they knew to be effective at keeping kids academically and creatively engaged.

Girls, Inc., Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Avance, VentureLab, San Antonio Children’s Museum, Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts, YMCA, UTSA’s Interactive Technology Experience Center (iTec), Martinez Street Women’s Center and others were on hand to promote their summer programs.

“One thing I’m really excited about is that we have Teach For America alumni who now work directly for some of these organizations.  The Executive Director of the San Antonio Children’s Museum is a TFA alum as is one of the educational coordinators for The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center,” said Laura Saldivar Luna, executive director of TFA San Antonio. “I really believe that through collective impact and collaboration, our city can advance educational outcomes and opportunities for students. We feel fortunate to get to be a part of fueling that collective impact.”

The fair seized the opportunity to reach out to whole families. San Antonio Food Bank, San Antonio Immigrant Youth Movement, the Center for Legal and Social Justice, and Family Violence and Prevention Services offered information on their services. Meanwhile, inside the house at 816 Brazos, Baptist Health System provided free health screenings.

In keeping with the citywide push to increase our college enrollment and completion rates, Café College was on hand to engage the parents of older children. Broadway Bank, BBVA Compass Bank and Jefferson Bank offered information to parents about how to start a college savings account for their children. At the other end of the pipeline, Head Start representatives were there to help the parents of younger children move toward enrollment in the fall.

Families across the city will make different choices on how to spend their summer vacations, and with the array of options available, it’s possible to make learning and enrichment a vital part of their plans. What are your summer learning plans?

*Featured/top image: Photo via Flickr user Krzysztof Pedrys.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.