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Summer: Saved

Middle school boys show off the garden they grew from seedlings as part of their summer camp program at the Children's Aid Society's wooded campus on Staten Island.

August 2010

Two thousand middle school children from low-income families faced a summer without free programs. But instead of enduring endless episodes of iCarly and missing out on lots of fun and learning, these kids are going to have a great summer.

The New York Community Trust and other funders concerned about the impact of wasted summer days on children’s development came together to find a way to keep these programs running.  Eighty-five thousand youngsters, most of whom live in the City’s neediest neighborhoods, took advantage of City-funded Out of School Time (OST) programs last year. But in the first draft of the mayor’s 2011 budget,  funding for 31 of these programs were on the chopping block. The NYC Youth Funders Network stepped in, holding briefings on these spending cuts and meeting with City officials to find a way to restore funding.

“Replacing government funding with private funding is often impossible and sometimes unwise,” says Roderick Jenkins, chairman of the Youth Funders Network and a Trust program officer, “but in this case we approached the City to find a way to restore the $1.2 million needed to keep these programs running, and we were able to meet the Department of Youth and Community Development half way.” To get the ball rolling, The Trust created the Summer Matters Fund and committed $100,000. We recruited other funders to raise the rest of the $600,000. They include: the Altman, Bank of America, Booth Ferris, Pinkerton, Helena Rubenstein, MetLife, and New York Life foundations; and individual Trust donors.

One recent study shows that two-thirds of the achievement gap between affluent and poor youth is directly related to the dearth of summer learning opportunities in poor communities. The groups that run OST programs play an integral part in stemming this learning loss. “They keep kids engaged at a critical developmental stage, and keep them competitive with more affluent youth, whose learning is often continued in the summer on family vacations and at camps,” continues Jenkins. “If kids can excel in middle school they are more likely to succeed in high school and beyond.”

“We are strong proponents of getting to know what kids are learning during the school year and building on that through summer projects that enrich and expand on those subjects,” says Katherine Eckstein, director of public policy at the Children’s Aid Society, which runs several of the restored summer programs. At the Madison Square Boys and Girls clubhouses in Brooklyn and the Bronx, kids compete to see which clubhouse can read the most books, in addition to playing sports or working on science projects. “We split the kids into food group teams to teach them about proteins, starches, sugars, etc.—it helps kids make healthier eating choices,” says Madison Square’s Salina Muellich. “Whatever it is we are trying to teach, we strive to make it fun.”

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