Summer Programs: Essential for Student Growth and to Fight Educational Inequality

Urban Initiatives’ programs focus on supporting youth in underserved communities. We reach entire school communities daily, through our Culture and Climate programs that strive to help schools value play and enrichment activities alongside classroom instruction. Through our Continuum of Programming, we reach students over many years and engage them in sports-based youth development programs from Kindergarten through high school. We also strive to engage parents, so that our values and lessons can connect school life and family life.

But what about when school is out for the summer? Research shows that students experience a “learning loss” over the summer. Across the board, though not consistently across grade levels and subjects, “students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning.”1 This loss disproportionately affects kids in low income communities, as well as children of color, and is compounded by many factors, including:

  • Income Summer enrichment programs often have a cost. Year after year, families that identify as affluent can pay for summer programming while families that identify as low-income cannot, and the learning gap widens between these groups of students.
  • Safety In Chicago, families that identify as low-income may not have reliable access to childcare over the summer, and may live in places where it would be unsafe for them to spend lots of time playing outdoors. Often, students find themselves indoors (with a relative or older sibling watching them) with not much to do except watch TV.
  • Nutrition Students from under-resourced communities rely on school not only for education, but many also utilize the free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs, so often 2 out of 3 of their daily meals come from school. Over the summer, simple access to nutrition can become inconsistent. Growing bodies and brains can’t be at their best without access to enough healthy food!

In Chicago and cities all over the US, agencies are working on solutions to these problems. Chicago Public Schools operates LunchStop — school locations where any child can come during the summer to get lunch. Libraries and Park Districts offer a variety of free programs that are opportunities for academic enrichment, refuge from the heat as well as access to safe, fun, and active play with friends.

Urban Initiatives is part of this effort as well. Since 2013, we have extended our school year partnerships with select schools so that kids don’t have to say goodbye to their friends and coaches for the summer months. We believe that fun and play are essential to youth development, and that play is an important space for learning, which translates into success in all areas of life. 

Our summer programs are not academic, though we are frequently part of a school’s summer program catalog that includes academic enrichment as well as sports and play. Often, partner schools will offer students the opportunity to enroll in Urban Initiatives’ summer camp only if they are also enrolled in the school’s summer enrichment program. This is an extension of our elementary school soccer programs’ model where kids who complete their academic enrichment can earn the opportunity to play with their friends and coaches.

Urban Initiatives also uses the summer months as an opportunity to bring in an array of partners to help support our program outcomes.

  • Health — One of our goals is to promote healthy lifestyles. While our elementary school program focuses on health, we also partner with Commons Threads in the summertime to enhance this learning by providing our kids with the opportunity to learn more about nutrition and practice making their own recipes!
  • Sport — Additionally, our programs help students discover their own identities through sports, but our program focuses on soccer. So, in the summer, we partner with the Chicago Cubs to implement their Jr. All-Stars program to expose students to baseball fundamentals and social emotional learning concepts that connect back to Urban Initiatives’ curriculum.
  • Leadership — Urban Initiatives also strives to give kids opportunities to develop leadership skills and make an impact in their communities- so we partner with After School Matters during the summer to place high school students in paid coaching positions to build those skills and be role models to younger children from their communities!

These are only several examples of the partners that come together to support our students to have safe, active, and fun summers that help them continue to learn and grow during the summer months. 

We know that sport and play create a natural setting for essential growth. Structured play, as well as free play, are times when kids learn to negotiate social dynamics, generate ideas and solve problems, build awareness, practice conflict resolution, and many other critical skills! 2 Playing tag will not necessarily help you learn how to read or subtract fractions, but it will help you learn the social emotional skills needed to be a member of a community.

Urban Initiatives is committed to providing fun, active, and safe programming that allows our youth to continue to grow all year long. Urban Initiatives is proud to have just finished another awesome summer of play-based learning and enrichment at our summer camps. We appreciate the continued partnership with our summer camp host sites, camp staff, and partners. 



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