Kids can learn and stay healthy over their summer break

Gov. Jay Inslee has proclaimed today a statewide celebration of Washington Summer Learning Day to acknowledge how important summer learning opportunities are in keeping kids’ minds and bodies active and healthy.

For more than 472,000 of Washington’s youth living in poverty, limited access to fun and enriching summer programs means a loss of learning, hunger without access to free or reduced price meals, and risk of not returning to school on track and at grade level in the fall.

Summer is an especially critical time to address health issues for low-income children who are at risk of both experiencing hunger and unhealthy weight gain.

Many children rely on the free and reduced-price school meals and are not aware of or have access to the federally subsidized Summer Meal Program where they can receive free, nutritious meals throughout the summer. In fact, only 85 percent of students who receive free and reduced- price meals access the summer meals.

Many children also experience unhealthy weight gain with limited engagement in physical activity. Quality summer learning opportunities ensure that kids are fed healthy meals and engage in regular physical activity through structured games, outdoor exploration and other experiential learning time.

In addition to the health concerns many children face during the summer, a growing body of research shows that summer learning loss is real and access to quality summer learning opportunities matters for students, especially those from low-income backgrounds and those struggling in school.

The good news is that summer learning programs can make a difference. According to a report released in June 2011 by the RAND Corp., students who regularly attend quality summer learning programs have positive outcomes, and the effects of these programs can endure for at least two years after the program.

Many school and community partners are increasing their summer offerings to respond to this growing concern, especially in serving our low-income and at-risk student populations.

In Tacoma, the Tacoma Summer Learning Collaborative is coordinating summer learning opportunities as part of a broader initiative to support students in achieving success. At the statewide level, School’s Out Washington is working with many partners to improve policies to increase access to summer learning opportunities and free summer meals.

These efforts – along with many other local and regional efforts – will build momentum and support for this important issue.

We have research and knowledge telling us quality summer programs make a difference, and we must continue investing in community and school partnerships that provide the quality summer learning experiences that both support children’s health and academic success while promoting experiences that create the lasting memories that all kids deserve during their summer vacation. Free summer meals

Parents can search for free summer meal sites for their children by ZIP code and address at www.parenthelp123.org.

Connie Ladenburg of Tacoma is a former state legislator and current member of the Pierce County Council.