Working to stem the 'summer slide'

Last month I touched on some of the ways that we work to meet the increased needs of Massachusetts' children in the summer months.

When the academic year ends, a staggering number of children -- nearly 300,000 -- from low-income families lose access to the meals they rely on during the school year. Our food pantries across the state work to meet some of the increased demand, but strained access to food isn't the only problem that arises for children when school lets out.

Nearly every student returns to school in the fall having lost some knowledge and skills gained in the previous school year. However, research has determined that the so-called "summer slide" takes a much larger toll on low-income students than their higher-income peers. Additional research shows that up to two-thirds of this gap can be explained by unequal access to high-quality summer opportunities.

Several of our programs at Catholic Charities aim to provide meaningful opportunities to low- income children in our communities. I spoke about the Sunset Point Camp last month, where we welcome more than 450 inner city children for a free week-long overnight camping experience. Children who come to Camp have the opportunity to escape the city heat, both literally and figuratively. For some children, Sunset Point offers a first-ever walk on the beach or ocean swim. Science and nature learning and enrichment activities and summer reading are also integrated into the program.

The Youth Tutoring Youth program at the Laboure Center in South Boston employs local teens as tutors to younger students. Both age groups are at-risk of summer learning losses. We have found that enlisting teens as tutors to younger kids not only provides important mentoring opportunities, but fosters the development of important life skills. Our teen tutors are able to develop their interpersonal relation skills, conflict resolution skills, and public speaking ability.

The Teen Center at St. Peter's has a similar aim. In the summer months, the Teen Center's hours are extended to offer 15-19 year old teens from the Bowdoin/Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester educational and recreational activities, along with summer classes taught by Boston Public School teachers. The Teen Center is also able to provide jobs to area teens as peer leaders, teaching them important job skills as they work to better themselves and their community.

Peabody Child Care, where children between the ages of 5 and 13 are cared for in our expanded full-day afterschool programs and enjoy summer activities that include weekly learning-rich field trips.

We are grateful to our many private donors, civic and corporate partners in this important work. John Hancock's MLK Summer Scholars, Liberty Mutual, Massport, BCYF Summer Youth Fund, City of Boston Division of Youth Employment and Engagement, The Boston Foundation's My Summer in the City, Flatley Foundation, Associated Grant Maker' (AGM) Homeless Campership Fund, CCUSA, Agnes Lindsay Trust, The Adelard and Valeda Lea Roy Foundation, Friends of Rosie's Place, Mass. Department of Developmental Services Innovation Grant to Promote Social and Community Inclusion, and the Friends of Sunset Point Camp are just some of the many supporters that make it possible for our children and teens to have access to programming that will help keep them prepared for academic success when school begins in September.

We hope that you too will support us in our pursuit of building a brighter future for Massachusetts' children.

For more information about the work of Catholic Charities, visit our website

- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.