Paul Reville: Summer Enrichment for All Kids

Paul Reville: Summer Enrichment for All Kids

Above: Paul Reville, Director of the Education Redesign Lab, attended the BELL open house in Providence, RI on July 27, 2017.

When I look at my daughter’s summer vacation, her experiences fit together like a brilliant patchwork quilt. She is enjoying several weeks of summer camp, interesting travel with family and friends, horseback riding at her favorite stable, and a week at the beach.

Throughout these experiences, she is being stimulated and enriched. She is making new friends, learning from experts, and exploring new places. She is learning all the time — not school learning, but valuable learning nonetheless. From these experiences, she derives an undeniable advantage over her less fortunate peers, who by virtue of their socioeconomic status, lack access to any such opportunities. We are lucky to be privileged.

Research tells us that by the time children reach the end of sixth grade, those from middle class families will have had 6,000 more hours of learning than kids living in poverty.

These additional hours accumulate not just through access to summer camp, but through early childhood learning, travel, excursions to museums and zoos, after-school activities ranging from tutoring to clubs, and lessons in music and coding, to name just a few.

Access to these learning opportunities is a direct function of wealth. The wealthier your family is, the more access to enrichment opportunities your children enjoy and, consequently, the more their learning advances during the summer months. Conversely, if your family lacks such opportunities we simply say “tough luck, too bad,” and children slip backwards, experiencing a well-documented pattern of summer learning loss.

This is what the opportunity gap looks like when it comes to summer learning and engagement. But it doesn’t have to.

In Providence, where history shows us that more than half of students suffer summer learning loss in reading and math, Mayor Jorge Elorza and Superintendent Christopher Maher have recognized the need for increased summer learning opportunities. The city is capitalizing on the opportunity to collaborate with us to create a new engine for education and child/youth development that goes beyond simply offering school from September to June, six and a half hours a day, 180 days a year, amounting to only about 20 percent of a child’s waking hours.

Mayor Elorza announced the expansion of Providence’s Summer Learning Initiative earlier this year partnering with Providence Public Schools and community organizations: BELL, Breakthrough Providence, the Providence After School Alliance and Generation Teach. Over 850 students this summer are currently engaged in enrichment programs gaining exposure to the arts, hands-on science, career opportunities, field trips, community service activities, and individualized support in reading and math. “In Providence, we’re All In for education and that means that we have to take advantage of every opportunity our kids have to learn,” said Elorza. “This commitment to increasing summer learning will allow students to not only keep pace, but to stay ahead.”

Providence is one of the cities participating in the By All Means initiative, which I lead out of the Education Redesign Lab at Harvard Graduate School of Education. We focus on breaking the long-standing link between socioeconomic status and prospects for academic achievement and career success, in collaboration with mayors, superintendents, and cross-agency Children’s Cabinets, to broaden the support systems children have. Schools play an essential role in children’s development, but we must engage the community — other city agencies, youth-serving nonprofits, families, cultural organizations, businesses — to help all thrive. 

Providence has long been a leader in providing access to summer and after-school programming. Mayor Elorza, Superintendent Maher, the school board, and the city council worked together to enable the significant expansion of summer programming and doubled the number of high quality learning slots available for children. Through the By All Means Children’s Cabinet, different city sectors will continue working to produce fruitful partnerships to benefit children.

As we look to the future and the changes needed for our education system to prepare all children for success, we might start by guaranteeing that each child has access to at least six weeks of high quality summer enrichment and learning.

Providence is on its way to doing just that.


Paul Reville is the Francis Keppel Professor of practice of educational policy and administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the founding director of the school’s Education Redesign Lab. Previously, Reville served as the Secretary of Education for Massachusetts.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Providence Journal on August 10, 2017.