For school children, summertime can mean long days at the pool or beach, playing outdoors, perhaps a family vacation or a variety of summer academic programs. For low-income school children, the summer months can mean too much time away from the classroom and an increase in the achievement gap between kids that have easy access to summer enrichment activities and kids that do not.
In an effort to close the achievement gap by supporting the expansion of access to summer learning opportunities, the National Summer Learning Association, an organization dedicated to spreading summer learning opportunities across the country as a solution for equity and excellence in education, has partnered with outdoor advertising firm Clear Channel Outdoor Americas and media and entertainment company iHeartMedia Inc for a national public service campaign to stress the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy this summer.
The out-of-home media and radio public service announcements will highlight the NSLA's "Smarter Summers = Brighter Futures" campaign, promoting summer learning as a strategy to help young people get ahead in the new school year. CCOA will leverage its digital OOH network to run the PSAs on nearly 1,000 digital billboards across 28 markets, and iHeartMedia will air public service announcements voiced by First Lady Michele Obama across its more than 850 radio stations in July and August.
"Both CCOA and iHeart believe in using its resources (billboards) to inspire action in the communities we live and serve in," Jason King, a spokesperson for CCOA, told Digital Signage Today in an email. "And this national campaign has hyperlocal ties to municipalities across the U.S. where we have a media footprint."
The campaign is intended to enhance the Summer Opportunity Project, a multi-agency effort led by the White House and in partnership with the NSLA, CCOA and iHeartMedia to support communities across the country in promoting productive summer opportunities for youth. With more non-profit private sector partnerships, the NSLA looks to achieve its 2020 Vision, an effort to ensure that by 2020, every city, town and county in America will provide summer learning, job opportunities and summer meals to every young person who qualifies for free and reduced-price meals.
"Inequity plagues society and nowhere is this more apparent than our education system and access to high-quality summer learning opportunities," Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the NSLA, said in a press release. "To ensure brighter futures for our children, we must make smarter investments in their summers to close the summer opportunity gap."
Every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading achievement, while their higher-income peers make slight gains, according to the announcement. And, most youth lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math skills in the summer. Year after year, these losses accumulate.
By fifth grade, the cumulative years of summer learning loss can leave low-income students almost three years behind their peers. In fact, more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.
In addition to education, to ensure America's youth are safe, healthy and productive during the summer, NSLA, the White House and government agencies are working on summer programs to keep young people properly fed, help them develop the skills necessary to enter the workforce and set them on a meaningful career path.
According to research provided by CCOA, in addition to preventing summer learning loss, focusing on summer meals and jobs is critical to protecting and equipping children and families.
Additionally, minority children gain weight up to twice as fast during the summer than during the school year, according to the research. To help stabilize their diets during the summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program subsidizes meals for young people. In 2014, 3.2 million youth took advantage of this service on an average day.
Summer jobs are critical for young people because they divert them from criminal involvement and reduce overall violence, yet nearly 46 percent of youth who applied for summer jobs were turned down, according to a recent study by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Over the past 12 years there has been a 40 percent decline in summer job opportunities for our country's youth.
"iHeartMedia and CCOA believe that education sets the foundation for community success," King said. "This radio and OOH strategy will help young people get ahead in the new school year by staying engaged with summer enrichment opportunities."
/ Travis Wagoner is editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. He spent nearly 18 years in education as an alumni relations and communications director, coordinating numerous annual events and writing, editing and producing a quarterly, 72-plus-page magazine. Travis also was a ghostwriter for an insurance firm, writing about the Affordable Care Act. He holds a BA degree in communications/public relations from Xavier University.