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Plan Today for a Safe, Healthy and Engaged Summer

Plan Today for a Safe, Healthy and Engaged Summer
Posted on 05/22/2019
As Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV) and its partners in the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council and Lehigh Valley Summer Learning Coalition encourage families to enroll today in programs to assure their children have safe, healthy and engaged summer vacations.

“When school ends, many students lose access to quality learning opportunities and meal programs. We’re proud to work with more than 50 community organizations and schools through the Lehigh Valley Summer Learning Coalition to ensure that all kids, regardless of income or age, have access to affordable and high-quality summer programs,” explains Jill Pereira, Vice President of Education and Impact, UWGLV. 

Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities cause many students to lose two months of mathematical skills every summer, and children from low-income families typically lose another two to three months in reading. To reduce this “summer slide,” UWGLV is investing $450,000 per year into academic and enrichment programs for students in Allentown, Bethlehem Area and Easton Area School Districts.

“Summer learning programs work. Through our investments, we see an average success rate of 80-97% rate in preventing the summer slide in math and reading,” said Pereira.  “In the Lehigh Valley, one in three third-graders aren’t reading on grade level. Research tells us those students may be up to 13 times less likely to graduate high school. Through Lehigh Valley Reads, a campaign powered by United Way and PBS39, we aim to ensure that all third-graders read on grade level by 2025. High-quality summer learning experiences are a key strategy to achieve that goal.”
Last year, approximately 1,400 students attended summer learning programs in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton school districts. Since 2016, participation has increased 37 percent among low-income elementary students in these districts. Valley-wide, providers report they could serve up to 7,000 additional low-income students with funding to hire more staff.

In 2018, Allentown School District launched its first district-wide summer learning initiative in each of its elementary schools and helped approximately 900 students not only maintain, but advance their math and literacy skills over the summer. Through tested and effective reading comprehension and mathematics lessons, 81 percent of students that participated maintained their skills from the previous school year or learned new skills for the upcoming year.

“As we expand our summer learning opportunities within the Allentown School District, we remain committed to the work outlined in our Strategic Framework, reinforcing the importance of early intervention and personalized learning. Initiatives such as PreK exposure and Kindergarten readiness set the stage for future success,” said Thomas Parker, Superintendent of the Allentown School District.  

“Supporting our students in the summer months is crucial to increasing Kindergarten readiness, math and reading proficient rates and working towards the goal of ensuring that all ASD students read on grade level by the 3rd grade. Through a dynamic partnership led by the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, ASD is able to support the learning needs of our students this summer at all district elementary schools with this student and family centered program,” added Parker.

For those who don’t have reliable access to food at home, summer programs are a great way to ensure meals are provided on a regular basis. Through a coordinated effort in 2018, summer programs served more than 146,000 meals to children and teenagers throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley. However, the programs reached only 10-16% of the students who are eligible for free- and reduced-lunch programs during the school year.
 Organizations such as the Greater Valley YMCA will offer expanded hours and new locations for summer meal programs in 2019 to reach more students in the highest-need areas.

“We know that 1 in 6 children in Pennsylvania do not know where their next meal is coming from. Two of the Y’s areas of impact are youth development and social responsibility. That’s why we’re helping kids reach their full potential by providing free access to healthy meals when school’s out for summer. As a community partner to United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, we recognize our responsibility to help make food accessible to children, so that they can learn, grow, and thrive,” said David Fagerstrom, Chief Executive Officer, Greater Valley YMCA.

Expanded services are possible thanks to generous donors and corporate supporters such as Crayola, which the Lehigh Valley Summer Learning Coalition has recognized as a corporate champion and sponsor. Crayola’s contributions helped support high quality summer learning programming for low income elementary students at both school and community partner sites in the Lehigh Valley in 2018.

"Children should enjoy time – summer or otherwise – during which they can freely and creatively explore the world around them through activities that nurture their imagination and spark their creativity," said Colleen Mooney McGee, Manager of Community and Governor Relations, Crayola. "Investing in programs and services that enable and foster educational opportunities for children and their families is as much of a business decision, as it is a philanthropic decision. Strong educational systems promote and create healthy and vibrant communities. Today’s students are tomorrow’s employees.”

Parents and caregivers may ask their child’s teacher or school about summer learning opportunities in your local community and call 2-1-1 to find a nearby summer meal site.

Mission of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley
The mission of United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley is to provide the leadership, convene the partnerships, and develop the resources and solutions that improve our community.  We remain committed to these goals and sincerely appreciate the continued support of partners, program providers and donors throughout the Lehigh Valley.