“Right now, I’m concerned about students who are at risk of summer learning loss, known as ‘summer slide.’ Over time, ‘summer slide’ can leave students up to 3 years behind.”
– Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library Fund
For many Americans, mid-summer is a time of relaxation. It might include vacations or day trips, BBQs, graduation parties, and visits with family and friends. For most children, the excitement of summer is difficult to contain. They spend those last few weeks of school in a hazy, daydream-like state, knowing the possibility of pool parties, hermit crabs, carnival rides, and ocean breezes is just a few more math problems away.
Homeless children, however, cannot afford for summer to be a daydream. The harsh reality of their daily routine would not allow it. In some cases, for homeless youth, school is a safe haven. It offers a space where they can socialize and grow, a place where nutritious food is readily available and harsh weather stays where it belongs – outdoors.
The Education Department projects that homelessness within the public school system has increased by an astounding 70% in the past ten years. This poses problems when the school bell rings, but those issues don’t dissipate when class is not in session.
During those hot summer months when there is no safe place to go and no vacation awaiting, homeless children become vulnerable to a phenomenon known as summer slide.
Summer slide is how children of school age lose knowledge they gained during the school year while on summer break. This phenomenon was introduced into the education sphere in the mid-’90s and has since been nationally recognized.
The gradual nature of summer slide is what makes it so harmful. It is often difficult to detect in the beginning during elementary school, a time when it is incidentally causing the most damage.
Studies have shown that low-income children fall victim to summer slide at disproportionate levels, a testament to their lack of educational resources during those summer months. Children enduring the horrors of homelessness have even fewer resources available for them. This is because many summer education programs require both money and a verifiable address.
It’s easy for children who get wrapped up in the delights of summer to forget or ignore their studies temporarily. However, the vulnerability to summer slide comes less from forgetting and more from remembering for homeless children.
The halls, classrooms, and cafeterias of school can help distract homeless children from the chaos of their daily lives. Once those distractions are removed, the writing on the wall becomes clearer.
The pandemic created an atmosphere that hindered learning for most members of the coming generation. It hit youth hailing from low-income families hardest. Brookings has dubbed it an “educational equity crisis.”
Heather J. Hough, executive director of PACE, made the following summarizing statement this past April:
“Some students have found themselves without a safe, stable place to live, lacking basic necessities, and disconnected from needed services and supports when schools—a primary avenue for public service delivery—closed for months on end.”
It is worth noting that those schools are also closed for summer.
We have information about youth homelessness at our fingertips, but our elected officials could not be further from the truth when we search for answers. Contact your state representatives today and demand they make housing a human right so young minds can grow no matter what season it is.
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