My name is Dani Rubio, a current Marketing & Communications Intern at Student U. I am a proud first-generation Latina studying Earth & Climate Science and Education at Duke University. I spent the majority of my summers growing up outdoors with my siblings. We made the most of the football field-sized yard that we shared with the dozens of other tenants in our apartment complex. However, this eventually faded as I grew older and started working. Unlike many of my peers who spent summers abroad or in academically stimulating internships and programs, I worked full-time at a job paying minimum wage. Doing so was how I could afford to pay senior fees such as my cap and gown for graduation. I owe much of my success to community programs in my hometown, Lexington, NC. At our public library, a summer reading program fostered my love for reading and served as a summer learning intervention. Once I was in high school, Project Potential, a college access program for low-income students provided overwhelming support for its students. Through them, I was able to attend free summer “boot camps.” I have been blessed to have had access to all the opportunities that I did. However, this is not the case for all first-generation students.
In the summer before my senior year, I was able to take the ACT for the second time and raised my score by five points. Because of work, I did not have the time or resources to self-study, so having access to an academic summer learning experience made the difference for me. Without this, I would have likely experienced significant learning loss. The “Summer Slide” is a term used to describe the learning loss that occurs during the summer months. During these 3 months, students lack instruction and start to stagnate or fall behind. Studies show that learning loss is most visible in students of color from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This differs from higher-income students who have increased access to summer enrichment programs. All too often, people speak about the achievement gap in a way that places the blame on students and their parents without addressing systemic issues. Approximately 51% of families not participating in a summer program say they would if one was available to them. And of families who pay for summer programs, the average weekly reported cost is $288 per child per week. This places students of color from low-income homes at a disadvantage.
Experiencing this has influenced my passion for education and its reform. Organizations such as Student U are incredibly important in ensuring first-generation students have access to the resources necessary for their success. Student U empowers and equips first-generation college students in Durham Public Schools, their families, and educators to become the leaders that will transform our city for the better. We take a whole-families approach to college access and success programming, which means creating a learning environment for students and families where we consider everything that affects a student’s ability to show up fully and reach their potential. We work with students and families year-round and run a Summer Academy program that combats summer learning loss. Like Student U, I believe education to be transformative, however, not every student has access to the resources they need. I believe that investing in summer learning opportunities is crucial for first-generation students like myself, especially those who are unable to afford enrichment. This has become significantly more urgent as consequences of virtual learning are becoming more visible. Traditionally, learning loss was almost exclusive to the summer, however, due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, students struggled to keep up during the 2020-2021 school year. The need for free and accessible summer programs is needed now more than ever in order to support students who have faced significant challenges due to the pandemic and remote learning. Providing a summer opportunity for academic growth plus mental and physical health will help schools and families begin to address those challenges. We believe that all people are worthy of experiences and opportunities that honor the equal value of their lives and enable them to reach their full potential. We know how important this summer is for our students and families to be supported academically and social-emotionally, and to build community for students to succeed.
On average, students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds suffer greater learning losses over the summer than students from advantaged backgrounds. Due to COVID-19, this disparity has worsened and students who are economically disadvantaged have been most affected academically. In Fall 2020, students started school about 3 months behind than expected. Students of color were 3-5 months behind in school while white students were only behind 1-3 months. Without summer programs this summer, this gap is only expected to grow. Statistics show that students who attend summer programs over 5 weeks, like Student U Summer Academy, demonstrate more retention of learned material. Because many of the students who benefit the most from these programs are also those who are less likely to attend due to their financial status, it is incredibly important to invest in such programs.
In addition to demonstrating academic growth, students greatly benefit from summer programs socially. While many view these programs as short-term solutions to “Summer Slide”, they offer much more. Students who engage in such programs are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and have a greater income. Without summer programs, students are subject to falling further behind. This can lead to lower high school graduation rates, and thus lower college enrollment. As a result, this fuels the pervasive cycle of poverty. In addition, many students have suffered emotionally due to attending school remotely. Thus, it is important to invest in free or affordable summer programs to allow for more equitable education. Investing in the long-term recovery of students from the pandemic is important for our whole community. Student U recognizes the importance of the whole child; we know that while developing academic skills is important, our students’ social, emotional, and physical well-being is just as crucial to their success. We are excited to safely run our in-person Summer Academy to give time and resources for students to heal from the intense experiences of the pandemic, gearing up to move forward. We will focus on community building and continuing our excellent academic enrichment while integrating remediation and assessing students’ progress to plan the fall.
Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s Governor recently allocated 40 million dollars under House Bill 82 to fund summer programs for students. This bill requires school districts to offer either 150 hours or 30 days worth of summer academic programming for students. This is an incredible step in the right direction closer to achieving a Durham where all students succeed, however, the work does not end here. We should ensure our school districts take full advantage of these funds and optimize their programs to ensure high student attendance as well as positive student engagement and success. Student U Summer Academy is an approved learning camp by DPS. Additionally, while this bill arises from the disparities in learning loss caused by COVID, the need for this funding will continue to be important and necessary. We should advocate in order for all students to have access to the summer programs they need for their success. This summer, more than ever, is a critical time period for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Student U’s Vision is one in which all students are able to succeed regardless of their background, not just during the school year but through the summer and beyond.
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