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Learning Loss: How summer can leave kids behind in school

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(Gleaners Community Food Bank)

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DETROIT – Kids struggling with summer hunger return to school in the fall lagging behind their peers, and summer learning loss that happens during children's elementary school years can have long-lasting negative effects well into their future.

A study by Johns Hopkins University revealed that summer learning loss during elementary school accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading between low-income children and their middle-income peers by ninth grade.

To help prevent the effects of hunger on child learning, Gleaners Community Food Bank provides an increased volume of meals in the summer - more than 4.5 million - to children in southeast Michigan. Gleaners invites the community to donate, funding these meals through its Hunger Free Summer campaign, to help keep kids ready to learn when they go back to school.

Research – from No Kid Hungry, the National Summer Learning Association and the United States Department of Education – shows "summer learning loss" especially affects low-income children who may already be struggling with hunger and success at school.

On average, the research concludes, low income children start kindergarten 12-14 months behind their peers and experience negative gains in math and reading, sometimes losing 2-3 months of learning, during summer months. "Summer slide," or the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the summer, can cause low income children to fall as much as 3 whole grade levels behind their peers by the end of fifth grade if they are not engaged in summer learning opportunities.

In southeast Michigan, Gleaners is a vital link between hungry children and nutritious food, reaching kids across the community through its: Summer Food Service Program, monthly Food Mobile Program and extensive network of more than 500 partner agencies.

"Getting kids the food they need in the summer reduces 'summer slide' and keeps kids healthy and ready to continue learning when school is back in session," said Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners. "In addition to the meals our team supplies, many of our Summer Food Service Program site partners offer educational, enrichment, physical and/or recreational activities in safe, supervised environments."

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The Summer Food Service Program provides thousands of children with access to nutritious meals at more than 90 local summer meal sites, five days per week. Some also serve meals on Saturdays, and nearly 70% of the summer meal sites serve breakfast in addition to lunch. Children at 10 summer meal sites throughout Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties receive Weekend Backpacks, which are filled with fruit, vegetables, healthy proteins and grains to supplement well-rounded meals over the weekend.

"[During the summer] many kids don't have breakfast. We'll find out they don't have food at home, or they may not eat food on a regular basis. They come in hungry," said Arika Charleston-Shorter, director for Healthy Kidz Incorporated, a Gleaners Summer Food Service Program partner. "A lot of people are ashamed to say they don't have food. Gleaners provides us with fresh fruits and vegetables that all our kids can eat."

In addition to the summer meal sites, Gleaners' Food Mobile Program reaches hungry children in high-need communities through nearly 90 monthly mobile pantries. Each distribution provides approximately 100 households with 30 pounds of nutritious food, protein and fresh produce.

Gleaners also distributes food through its extensive network of 528 partner soup kitchens, pantries and shelters, to help children and their families bridge the gap during the summer.

To ensure these programs and others supporting child nutrition and development meet the increased volume of need through the entire summer, Citizens Bank and other generous donors are matching donations made to Gleaners dollar-for-dollar until school is back in session in September. During the campaign, every dollar given provides six meals for a hungry child.

To learn more about Hunger Free Summer, click here.