New Education Program Helps Low-income Children Avoid the Summer Slide

James M. Loy, Miami University

A new program involving Miami University and a head start program in Hamilton, Ohio, is helping local children stay ahead this summer. It’s called JUmp over the SUmmer Time (JUST), and it addresses a phenomenon known as the “summer slide,” where some students can lose the academic progress they made during the previous school year.

“Children from low-income families tend to have this disadvantage more than their counterparts because children from higher income families are more likely to participate in ongoing activities during the summer,” says Lena Lee, Miami University professor of teacher education and JUST program coordinator.

Because low-income families often lack the time or resources to provide equally enriching summertime learning experiences, it can quickly lead to noticeable achievement gaps once their children return to school in the fall.

“Low-income children lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers make slight gains during the summer,” Lee says. “The effect of summers without learning is cumulative, and therefore, low-income children fall further and further behind their peers who participate in summer learning opportunities every year.”

Research also shows that math scores suffer as well. So Lee created JUST to help close this gap. It’s a free early intervention program that works with racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse children, aged 4-5, who come from low-income families across Hamilton.

Lee, along with four Miami teacher education students, lead a variety of activities that cover numerous subjects including math and reading, as well as social studies, science, art, music, and more.

One of the goals is to enhance meaningful and effective academic learning. But JUST is also designed to boost creativity and inquisitiveness by providing a safe and welcoming environment where children feel excited to learn.

“The most exciting part about this program for me is being able to watch these children grow,” says Jessie Wang, a Miami University junior and early childhood education major. “It is truly rewarding to see how far they have come over the past three weeks. I also love the relationships that I have built with all of them.” 

Other renowned universities such as Yale and Harvard have introduced similar summer programs to their local communities. But Lee says JUST is unique because of its particular emphasis on low-income children’s experiential learning.

“I aim to support their fund of knowledge and empower them so they won’t have disadvantage in education systems where they are too often marginalized,” Lee says. “Therefore, one of the ultimate objectives is to encourage them to be active democratic citizens who will be critical and take an action for social justice.”

Next year, Lee hopes to expand the program to include low-income children throughout the Talawanda School District.