During the school year, youth have access to structured learning and consistent meals. However, when school ends and summer begins, that structure disappears. In summer, all children can be impacted by summer learning loss, but in-particular low-income children can lose “two to three months of reading and math, while their higher-income peers make slight gains.”1 These disparities increase over time with each summer slide deepening on the achievement gap for young people.
Summer is a unique opportunity to explore learning in exciting ways. Benjamin Baird, SOWA’s Spokane County Program Quality Manager, explained that “during the school year, kids touch on many subjects but rarely get to delve deep into the content.” The S.H.A.R.P. Kids’ summer program works out of a 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) in Coulee Dam, a beautiful part of rural Washington. S.H.A.R.P Kids supports 65-70 youth in the summer and operates for five weeks which includes weekly hikes and field trips. During the day, kids read new books from Page Ahead and participate in the Grand Coulee National Library’s literacy programs. Youth who participate in S.H.A.R.P Kids’ summer program sustain or increase their literacy levels by the time school starts.
As well as having dedicated quiet time to read, youth from kindergarten to eighth grade get to be active participants in their environment. S.H.A.R.P Kids’ partnership with the National Park Service helps sustain and create learning opportunities in nature. This year S.H.A.R.P Kids’ focus includes geology, agriculture, watersheds, and outdoor survival. Youth get to learn STEM through real life experiences and explore different career pathways, creating a generation of leaders who care about the environment, and understand the world around them.
However, expecting youth to focus on learning while experiencing hunger is unrealistic, which makes the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) meal sites especially important in rural communities. S.H.A.R.P Kids is the only free summer meal site within a 40 mile radius for the whole Grand Coulee Dam School District and surrounding community. SFSP meal sites are key in decreasing food insecurity, especially when only 10.1% of students in Washington who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch actually access free summer meals.2
Anyone 18 years or younger can receive a free meal at open SFSP sites like the one at S.H.A.R.P Kids, whether or not they’re enrolled in the program. Nancy Kuiper, S.H.A.R.P Kids’ Program Director, expressed that lots of non-program kids come to eat through local advertising efforts and word of mouth. There’s lots of excitement around the meals which might be sausage pancakes for breakfast or a taco salad for lunch with lots of fruits and vegetables. When it comes down to it, Nancy knows that “kids need brain food” in order to thrive.
The Feed Your Brain grant distributed by School’s Out Washington provides funding and training to schools, community-based organizations, and tribes running summer learning programs in rural areas of central and eastern Washington State. In rural Washington, resources are limited and competitive, leaving little room for summer programs to explore curriculum. Coulee Dam, Washington doesn’t have a movie theater, swimming pool, or community center. S.H.A.R.P Kids is one of the only summer child care options in the area.
As a Feed Your Brain grant recipient, S.H.A.R.P Kids has access to a three-year cycle of funding, quality coaching, network support, and assessments. These program supports increase capacity and quality for already existing summer programs doing amazing work in rural Washington. By the end of funding, the objective is for summer programs to have multi-tiers of funding and investment to create a sustainable future. S.H.A.R.P Kids is also able to provide quality programing with support from continuous and purposeful staff buy-in and strategic partnerships like with the Lake Roosevelt Elementary School.
Learning through reading, touching, and exploring is crucial for kids. Investing in partnerships between summer learning programs and summer meals creates multiple levels of engagement, support, and buy-in from youth. By having an enrichment program with complimentary breakfast and lunch, S.H.A.R.P Kids helps youth to reach their full potential in the summer and succeed in the coming school year.
Thank you S.H.A.R.P Kids and Feed Your Brain funders for supporting youth in Coulee Dam, Washington!
Here are a couple ways to find your closest summer meal site:
- You can find your closest free summer meal site by going HERE
- Text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877 877 and find your closest summer meal site