By Robbie Owens

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Summer camps deliver a lot more than fun, games and childcare for working parents: some experts say summer engagement sets the stage for learning later. But, too often, low income kids are left out of those learning opportunities… falling victim to what’s been dubbed the ‘summer slide.’

“All the research would say that students lose about 2-3 months of ability to read and do math during the summer if they’re not enrolled in some sort of program that’s engaging them academically,” says Christina Hanger, CEO of Dallas Afterschool. “It’s bad enough that many students aren’t learning over the summer, they’re actually regressing.”

The local non-profit works to improve the quality of afterschool and summer programs—while also touting their importance–and advocating for more of them.

“Within our community there’s only enough capacity in the summer for 22 percent of our kids between the ages of 5 and 14,” says Hanger, pointing out a successful West Dallas based camp, Trinity River Mission. “They have a waiting list… [and] they have as many people on their waiting list as they have openings.”

Ashley Garcia, 10, is one of the lucky ones: and she knows it. “Sometimes we get to like, do math, so we can get better,” says Garcia, who will enter fifth grade in the fall. She began attending the Trinity River Mission after school camp as a first grader. She’s now spending her summer at the camp and says it has helped her confidence soar.

“I’d probably be sitting around, doing nothing and not really learning anything,” says Garcia. “And I wouldn’t be as confident to go to school as I would be if I went to the mission.”

And experts agree that summer learning is more critical than ever. That’s especially true for low income students who by sixth grade will have experienced 6000 fewer hours learning than their middle class peers.
Still, finding an affordable camp can be quite a challenge. Nevertheless, parents are encouraged to make the most of the time that remains—even if they can’t find an opening in an affordable camp.

“Going to the park, talking about nature,” says Hanger, “it’s just being able to get them away from the TV and get them thinking about the world around them is a huge help.”

Hanger also points out that public libraries are also terrific resources for summer learning. However, it happens, there’s a huge payoff: officials say students who came through the Trinity River Mission camp have an average 98 percent on time graduation rate, and 85% of them will go on to further their educations.

And it all begins with fun, disguised as learning. Or as 11-year-old Eliseo Simon describes the camp, “school in a fun way.”

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