Unfortunately the picture is not the same for all kids. Other kids will be limited in their summer enrichment choices. Attending summer programs, even with financial aid, may not be possible because logistically they can’t get to them. Or they may be helping their family by caring for younger siblings. One by one, summer days may pass with little academic stimulation, and instead be filled with hours spent playing Xbox and watching daytime television.
Last summer, Time Magazine published a story entitled "The Case Against Summer Vacation." In it, the author illustrates a vivid picture of the disparity between the summer experience of a middle- or upper-class kid compared to that of a low-income kid. The net result for low-income kids who miss out on summer enrichment is academic regression during the summer months as their wealthier peers continue to gain ground academically. Researchers blame two-thirds of the academic achievement gap between the economic classes on “summer slide.”
The Time article tries to quantify how many kids miss out on summer programs, stating that “experts believe that a majority of the 30 million American kids…[who] qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches do not attend any kind of summer enrichment program.”
According to the same article, a team at Johns Hopkins University combed through twenty years of data, and found that “…while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, the better-off kids held steady or continued to make progress during the summer, but disadvantaged students fell back. By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grades behind, and summer was the biggest culprit.”
Comparatively, Telluride kids from all income groups have it pretty good. Kids old enough can use the Galloping Goose or gondola to access Town Park or the Wilkinson Public library, and Telluride is safe so most kids can play outside unsupervised. Additionally, there are free summer programs available, and many of the tuition-based programs go to great lengths to make sure every child, regardless of their family’s financial situation, can attend.
The obvious place for free summer enrichment is the Wilkinson Public Library. Both the childrens and teen libraries are offering extensive reading programs this summer in which kids track the number of pages they read and earn awards as they reach established benchmarks. Children five and under will receive a passport and earn stickers each time they check out five books. Children six to twelve, can register and track their pages online to earn t-shirts, local gift certificates and tickets to the Nugget Theater.
Sarah Lawton, the teen librarian, is working with the older kids to set their own individual reading goals. Students who reach their goals will be entered into a drawing for a Nook color e-reader. Lawton understands the importance of keeping summer activities “cool” for the older kids and is offering such programs as the 60 day Summer Photography Challenge, DJ mixing, and digital photography workshops. The teen summer reading program kicks off Saturday June 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. with special guest DJ Soul Atomic.
Other tuition-based programs like the reputable Telluride Academy are doing their part to make their programs accessible to all local youth. A two-week academy program averages at about $720. To make this viable for local families, The Academy’s Executive Director Elaine Demas says there is a 30 percent discount for early bird registration and there were two registration nights this spring where families could get a 20 percent discount. Additionally, families can apply for tuition assistance.
“The reality is that most families who apply for tuition assistance qualify for more than a 30 percent discount and there is no deadline for tuition assistance,” Demas explains. “You can apply for assistance the day before camp starts and if you qualify, you’ll get the assistance you need.”
To further ensure access, Demas started two new initiatives this year. The first is a work-study program that can be applied to any travel camp – any camp that involves a plane ticket – because, according to Demas, there is no tuition assistance for those programs. The Academy will, however, match a student’s earnings from work (babysitting, dog-walking, mowing lawns) of up to a third of the cost of the program. That’s one-third from the student, one-third matched from the Academy and one-third left for the family.
Demas’s second initiative was to streamline the tuition assistance process for families whose children qualify for the school’s free or reduced lunch program. Instead of financial aid forms, these families sign a permission form that allows the academy to verify with the school that they qualify, and they automatically get an 85 percent or 60 percent discount, depending on which lunch program they qualify for. And if families need more, they can fill out the tuition assistance forms.
“It takes some prodding to get families to take advantage of the tuition assistance we have available here at the academy,” Demas says. “Many families are not comfortable asking for help.”
Other Telluride programs like The Ah-haa School for the Arts and The Sheridan Arts Foundation Young People’s Theater, are also known for their scholarship efforts.
Ah-haa offers diverse youth programming throughout the summer. To request tuition assistance, families need to fill out a straightforward form requesting the dollar amount and the reason for their need. The scholarship form is available in both English and Spanish.
But, even with the generous scholarship offerings, transportation and scheduling logistics can be prohibitive for some families and there will be kids who will inevitably miss out on summer enrichment. That’s when stories of mentors using their lunch breaks to facilitate transportation to and from a summer class (or to simply read with a child), or of neighbors taking the extra step to offer carpooling to another family, can make a huge difference – maybe even a difference as great as three grade levels in the course of a child’s grammar school years.