Summer Learning Matters: A New Mexico Child Care Program Takes Children to New Places

By Shannon Rudisill, Director, Office of Child Care

Orginal Story

For low-income children, summer learning matters. According to research cited by the National Summer Learning Association, “more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth[s] can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities” (Alexander et al., 2007). A new, large-scale national study conducted by Deborah Lowe Vandell at the University of California, Irvine, School of Education indicates that consistent attendance in afterschool and summer programs can lead to improvements in math and academic achievement, reductions in school absences, and improvements in behavioral outcomes when students participate in afterschool activities. In fact, high attendance can close the math achievement gap for elementary school children.

The Office of Child Care (OCC) is proud to celebrate summer learning this week in advance of Summer Learning Day on June 20. The Child Care and Development Fund program helps fund afterschool and summer learning for over 650,000 children each month. At OCC, we work toward a goal of ensuring they all have rich experiences that send them back to school in the fall even better prepared than when they were dismissed in June.

I had the privilege of visiting an energetic, innovative summer program this month at Apple Tree Education in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Truth or Consequences is town of just under 6,500 people, with a median household income of under $22,000. Over 80 percent of its children qualify for free and reduced price lunch, an indicator that a significant number of children live in poverty and live with the stresses that often accompany poverty, such as witnessing substance abuse or family violence. Apple Tree’s programs, which span from babies to teens, turn summer into a time for curiosity and learning. By combining Child Care and Development Funds with 21st Century Community Learning Center funds from the Department of Education, Apple Tree is able to leverage resources and enrich the child care environment for school-age children.

Toddlers mixed sand and water to make mud pies in shade from the hot sun. Preschoolers learned to take care of themselves and others by gardening and tending to classroom pets like turtles, guinea pigs, and one very clean, well-groomed rat! School-age children built a model of the solar system and participate in a summer-long outdoor adventure program that combines science, team-building, and fun. For this group, a recent float down the river included lessons on water filtration.

Rebecca Dow, Apple Tree’s visionary CEO, told me that some teenagers have rarely left Truth or Consequences; that’s why she puts such an emphasis on field trips and exploration of the wider world. One teen in the Boys and Girls Club won a national graphic design competition that will take her on an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles to learn about the entertainment industry. Another wrote an award-winning essay about her aspirations to become a marine biologist, despite living in a land-locked State, and will attend marine biology camp in California this summer. A whole group of youths went to Santa Fe for an advocacy day recently, which was the first stay in a hotel for some.

Thanks to the efforts of fantastic summer programs around the country, children from low-income families have the chance to take another new journey toward educational excellence and achievement. To learn more about supporting summer learning programs, visit the National Summer Learning Association at