National survey shows increase in summer program participation

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Summer learning programs are showing growing popularity among families, according to a national survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, an organization that advocates for afterschool programs.

The survey, which collected data from nearly 14,000 U.S. households, indicates that 33 percent of parents nationwide sent at least one child to a summer learning program in 2013, compared to 25 percent in 2009. About 51 percent of parents surveyed said that they wanted their child to participate in such programs if a high-quality option was made available.

While the popularity of the programs has increased, the cost to participate continues to be a challenge for some parents. The national weekly average cost for those who paid for summer programs last year was $250, an average that exceeds the benchmark for affordable child care. As a result, questions remain as to whether most parents can afford the expense and whether these programs can be made more accessible through additional public funding. In the survey, 86 percent of parents said they would support public funding of the programs.

Summer learning programs are one element of a nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which aims to improve literacy rates among kids. The campaign seeks to help students from low-income families attain grade-level reading by the end of 3rd grade, a critical milestone and predictor of school success. It also targets school absenteeism, reduction of the school readiness gap, and parent engagement. This is the first year that Philadelphia has rallied around the campaign.

But Matthew Freeman, who works with the Afterschool Alliance, said that they don’t yet have definitive numbers about Philadelphia’s summer program participation, “at least none that are comprehensive enough to paint a fair portrait.”

“We might when we release the entire report this October, but I’m afraid it’s too soon for that,” Freeman said.

Summer programs in Philadelphia are run by a variety of groups including the School District, recreation centers, libraries, museum-based summer programs, and athletic camps. The campaign aims to collect data this year on the programs to improve their quality and to help track enrollment rates.

Vicki Ellis, director of afterschool programs at the District, said that when comparing Philadelphia over the last five summers, the data could show that enrollments may not actually have increased.

“That is due to the decline in the District’s own summer programming due to our budget restraints. That’s why other options citywide are so critical to reducing the summer slide or in our case in reducing the slide in the number of summer opportunities overall.”

Hina Fathima is an intern at the Notebook.