by Laura Koenig
It is time to step up.
That is the message resonating right now in Central Texas. Educators, Service Providers, City Leaders, Faith Based Programs, planning organizations and funders met together on June 25th to have a frank discussion on what the community needs in terms of a sustainable, comprehensive extended learning system for children in our community. The answer is that we need to do more.
Learning is not just for school time anymore. According to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) “most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.”  This learning is cumulative and it means a child would be almost a full year behind their peers when they reach 5th grade due to summer learning loss. Common findings across numerous studies is clear:  students need to engage in summer learning and activities not to lose ground.
In Central Texas, a key player in forming this comprehensive vision to ensure all children have access to high quality out of school time opportunities is the Central Texas After-School Network (CTAN), which is comprised of providers of summer programs for low-income children. CTAN has engaged a broad representative group of community organizations to examine our entire system of supports for children in the summer and how we can provide seamless support for all children in our community.
CTAN identified areas in our current system that are in need of further attention and action:

  • Pockets of the community have no summer learning programs for at-risk children.
  • Most programs are offered only in June, because that is the only time space is available in high-needs neighborhood schools. Programs available in July often pose transportation challenges for families since they are in more central locations, rather than in neighborhood schools that are typically within walking distance for children.
  • There is a lack of alignment between programs. For example, various programs are offered at the same time, take place in the same location each summer and tend to recruit the same families as other programs, duplicating effort and competing to serve the same population.
  • Programs have little in the way of quality assessment and control to ensure children are engaging in enriching activities.
  • There is not a comprehensive data collection system or ways to articulate the deep value these programs can have on child learning.
  • There is a lack of funding to system coordination in order to understand where the needs are, how best to meet them.

The solution is simple: we need a coordinated approach with an investment in time and money to create a collective impact model for out of school time systems.
Organizations are starting to donate staff time to share best practices, coordinate systems, gather data and understand national research. Central Texas funders, like KDK Harman, are forming a funders collaborative to promote best practices and develop community reporting and metrics for summer programs. In a series of meetings both funders and providers will be looking out building a common agenda focused on child outcomes, and identifying key resources in moving the work forward while gathering the best data to make decisions.
It is also crucial to increase public awareness on this issue. Summer is a key time for all children to continue learning, and we can’t take a vacation from learning. It is crucial to engage families in this process. It is a culture shift for many families to understand learning in the summer is just as important as learning during the school year. It means making sure children are engaged – physically active and mentally active. Families also should look for summer programs that have learning components, like STEM (Science Technology, engineering and mathematics), and reading. We need families to speak up, and ask for quality summer programs. Get children off the couch and actively learning!
We recognize that many families already engage in enriching summer activities such as: summer family trips, time at libraries and museums, a summer reading list for their children, and enrolling their kids in various enriching summer camps.  These activities do more than fill the time during summer months — These are proven strategies to help students retain their skills and knowledge base, and continue to learn during crucial years of schooling.  However, these activities require investment of time and/or money and may not be easily available to families.  For all children it is critical to keep learning going all year long. Without exposure to enriching and engaging activities, children head back to school in the fall catching –up instead of moving forward. It especially impacts our low income population because families have less disposable income for camps, museums or vacations. Children don’t have access to the types of activities that would boost learning and support optimum development. We see dramatic difference in student outcomes for our low-income students compared to non-low income peers, and estimates are that nearly two-third of our achievement gap is directly related to summer learning loss.
Summer Learning

(Graph from National Summer Learning Association Research Brief: More Than a Hunch: Kids Lose Learning Skills Over the Summer Months, 12/24/2009, available on line:

Cooper, H., Charlton, K., Valentine, J. C., & Muhlenbruck, L. (2000). Making the most of summerschool. A meta-analytic and narrative review. Monographs of the Society for Research in ChildDevelopment, 65 (1, Serial No. 260), 1-118.

Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement testscores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of EducationalResearch, 66, 227-268.)

There are other less obvious contributors to summer learning loss. Good nutrition promotes good learning. The children that participate in school food programs and have access to free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, in summer time experience food insecurity and lack of access to good nutrition. Even when summer food programs are offered, barriers to access persist in the form of lack of transportation, and adequate supervision. Getting supportive systems in place means addressing barriers like nutrition, transportation, supervision, and access.
Our hope is through a collective impact approach our region can support learning year round for all students.
Free Summer Reading Programs
Central Texas
San Marcos
Summer Food Programs: Find a site near you
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San Marcos
Find a Summer Camp that meets your needs
Laura Koenig, School Readiness Director
For over 20 years, Laura Koenig has been working with families through direct child care, parent education, provider education, public policy and advocacy in Central Texas. In her early career, Ms. Koenig worked in child care as an infant teacher. This work with children and families inspired her to pursue a systems change approach in early care and education through public policy. Most recently before joining the staff of E3 Alliance, Ms. Koenig coordinated the Parents of Newborns project at Family Connections, providing education and outreach to over 7,800 new families annually. Prior to that, Laura was part of a community-wide initiative to improve access to quality, affordable child care, the Institute for Child Care Excellence, where she served as the policy and education specialist. Ms. Koenig earned a BA, Plan II, Cum Laude, from The University of Texas of Austin with a concentration in Psychology. She also holds a master’s degree in public affairs from the LBJ School at The University of Texas, where she focused on child and family policy.