United Way study says lack of Central Virginia summer youth programs contributing to achievement gap

United Way study says lack of Central Virginia summer youth programs contributing to achievement gap

The report found that youth programs in the Richmond area were well below the number needed, contributing to an achievement gap between children living in poverty and their better-off peers.

As area schools let out for summer break in a couple of weeks, the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg has published a new report it produced alongside the National Summer Learning Association, spotlighting a discouraging trend.

The report found that youth programs in the Richmond area were well below the number needed, contributing to an achievement gap between children living in poverty and their better-off peers.

Highlights include:

  • Just one in five area children ages 0-17 participated in an organized program;
  • 57 organizations provided 142 programs that served 49,155 youth, out of a total population of 250,000 children ages 0-17;
  • Among the reasons that youth programs were not reaching capacity, 38 percent of those surveyed cited a lack of transportation to and from the program while an identical number pointed to a lack of awareness about them

From United Way:

A first-ever national assessment of youth summer programs in the Greater Richmond and Petersburg region in 2017 found that the availability of programs serving the area’s pre-school and school-aged populations is well below what is needed. 

In the summer of 2017, just one in five area children ages 0-17 participated in an organized program, which, according to United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg and the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), contributes to the achievement gap between children living in poverty and their peers.  Last summer, 57 organizations provided 142 programs that served 49,155 youth, out of a total population of 250,000 children ages 0-17.

Summer learning loss is an often-overlooked contributor to learning gaps – from preparation for kindergarten through SOL scores through high school graduation rates – and the impact is especially evident in children growing up in low-income households.

“Research tells us that even if children are learning at the same rate during the school year, some students don’t have access to the same services over the summer,” said James Taylor, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, which commissioned the NSLA study. “These students are more apt to lose ground on their peers, making it more difficult to catch up.”

Among the reasons that youth programs were not reaching capacity, 38 percent of those surveyed cited a lack of transportation to and from the program while an identical number pointed to a lack of awareness about them.  Among the most popular methods used to recruit youth to the programs, three in four (75%) said “word of mouth” with 61 percent using school resources.

The highest number of programs were available to third and fourth graders (129), followed by grades five and six (119) and grades one and two (118).  The fewest programs were for students transitioning to college (15).

Over half the programs (54%) operated throughout the summer (nine or more weeks), while one in three (30%) ran for 5-8 weeks and 16 percent just one week or less.

Almost one in two (46%) of the programs offered lunch and 40 percent a snack.  More than a third (39%) provided no meals.

The summer programs also varied widely in the amount of academic instruction offered.  Forty percent included between 30 and 60 minutes of learning time, with 34 percent providing 90 minutes or more.  One quarter (23%) offered no academic enrichment.

The study noted that 75 percent of the summer programs had paid staff, and half (56%) used volunteers.

While the research pointed to a deficiency in meeting the demands of the community, it did observe that “the good news is that [there are] efforts currently in place that can help support the expansion of improvement of summer learning programs.”

The report cited the region’s Strive Together network, Bridging Richmond, anchored by Virginia Commonwealth University and United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg, the Mary and Frances Youth Center at VCU and the Weikart Center as programs “dedicated to advancing equity in education.” It also singled out Mayor Stoney for his vocal advocacy for the expansion of out-of-school time programs to all Richmond Public School students.

The report offered six recommendations to the region, including continuing to build a community-wide summer learning action plan, agreeing on common indicators for collecting and evaluating data and undertaking a deeper assessment of funding resources.

“This new research now provides an important baseline for continued measurement, assessment and planning,” Taylor said. “Here at United Way, we look forward to helping bring together the region’s resources to find workable and sustainable solutions to this challenge.” 

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