Summer programs provide so much more to kids in our community than a chance to catch up academically. Classes, camps, and out-of-school activities offer kids a chance to grow and thrive so they can reach their full potential. Together with our partners, United Way of St. Joseph County provides free and accessible summer programs to kids in St. Joseph County.

Why are these programs so important? Here are five ways free summer community programs help all kids thrive.

1. Stop Learning Loss
Over the summer, kids can lose two to three months of academic gains from the school year. Summer programs help minimize that learning loss by providing support for kids through the summer months. This year in particular more kids need summer support. COVID-19 disrupted learning, giving kids new challenges to overcome. Students who had never learned online had to adjust to remote learning, with some not having computers or strong internet connections. Parents with essential jobs who could not work from home were unable to provide as much support to their kids as parents with more flexible jobs. These factors and others led to larger rates of learning loss during the school year.

2. Increases Access to Learning Support
Some summer classes or camps can be expensive. According to the Summer Learning Association, the average weekly cost of summer programs is nearly $300 a week per child. For the average household in the U.S. a full summer of activities at this rate would cost 5% of a family’s total income.

In addition to cost, summer programs are more common in densely populated areas and wealthier neighborhoods. Families from under-resourced or rural communities have fewer options or may have to travel longer distances to find quality programs. This can be challenging for working parents and families without their own transportation. Our community summer programs offer kids in St. Joseph County free and affordable options as part of Hello Summer, and Transpo is once again offering free bus passes for K-12 students.

3. Provide Access to Summer Meals
During the school year, school-provided breakfasts and lunches can give many kids the food they need to grow, learn and thrive. In St. Joseph County, over 50% of kids ate a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. In the summer months some of these kids miss these meals. Summer programs help kids continue to have access to healthy, nutritious meals.

4. Support Social and Emotional Skills Development
Summer programs give students the opportunity to grow more than just academically. Social and emotional skills help kids do well in school and set them up for future success in college and their career. Summer programs that intentionally focus on social and emotional learning can help kids improve self-awareness, self-management, decision-making, personal responsibility and so much more.

5. Saves Teachers Time During the School Year
According to the Summer Learning Association, 9 in 10 teachers spend at least 3 weeks re-teaching lessons at the beginning of the school year. When teachers have to repeat information it slows the pace of students learning new information they need for the year and developing skills they need for lifelong success, including thriving in post-secondary education and the workforce. Summer programs help kids keep learning through the summer and retain information from the previous year.

This year, United Way of St. Joseph County will help hundreds of kids in our community through summer programs. Programs give students the opportunity to build science, math, and reading skills along with so many other important lessons. This is possible because of generous donors and supporters in our community. We look forward to expanding these programs in the future so more kids can reach their full potential and thrive!