It’s summertime, but school’s in session for a growing number of youth around the metro area. This year, enrollment numbers are rising as families flock to programs offered by Minneapolis, St. Paul and other school districts and organizations like YMCA Twin Cities.
“Communities are really now starting to recognize summer is a problem that we have to deal with, and it’s also a great opportunity,” said Jenny Collins, executive director of Beacons Network, a group of organizations and the Minneapolis Public Schools that work to make programs available for youth in low-income communities.
These programs can offer experiences to students who might be shut out because of lack of transportation or family issues, she said.
A summer filled with play typically makes for a tough transition back to school, research has found. Some students can be 2 ½ to three years behind their more affluent peers by fifth grade due the summer slide, according to the National Summer Learning Association. The group is celebrating a Summer Learning Day on Thursday with events nationwide to raise awareness of the benefits of summer engagement.
Public school officials in St. Paul, where the district revamped its summer courses a few years ago, have seen a steady increase in summer enrollment, said Jon Peterson, executive director for the district’s Office of College and Career Readiness.
“The philosophy behind our summer school is that we want to prohibit summer slide as much as we can,” he said.
Minneapolis Public Schools has seen growth in a couple of its summer school options, which district director of extended learning Daren Johnson attributes to more course offerings and the focus on student engagement in the classes. The district offers courses for elementary and middle schoolers and a high school transition program, he said.
One of the best results from summer school is increased attendance in the regular school year, Johnson said.
In St. Paul, Peterson said that a four- or eight-week program may not be long enough to close the achievement gap. Still, it does help engage students, he said.
Osseo schools are seeing attendance growth since last year in many of their summer offerings, pegged to more course options as well as increased promotion, according to schools spokeswoman Barb Olson.
The YMCA has seen enrollment spike in its summer programs, as have requests for financial assistance, the Twin Cities arm of the organization reported.
Families are realizing the benefits of summer learning, said Bharti Wahi, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund in Minnesota. “High-quality learning opportunities are really important,” she said, especially for low-income families.