by Lisa Fernandez, pitcher on the U.S. Olympic Gold medal softball teams on 1996, 2000 and 2004 and a Champions for America’s Future member
Long Beach Press Telegram, September 4, 2014—Many students heading back to school this year will find they have lost significant academic ground during the summer. Many will also be a lot heavier as a result of physical inactivity and unhealthy diets. As a parent and coach, I know of two simple ways to address these problems.
To tackle “summer learning loss” we must first recognize its disproportionate impact on kids from economically challenged families which cannot afford access to camps, museums and other educational activities that strengthen cognitive development. Through my involvement with Champions for America’s Future, a nonprofit organization that supports children’s health and educational success, I believe we can address this inequity by ensuring more kids are involved in meaningful learning activities over the summer and all year long.
Fortunately, this past summer children and families had several summer learning options through the Long Beach Parks and Recreation Department, including summer camps built around science, engineering, filmmaking, cooking and sports. California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) also offered math and science-focused camps throughout the summer months. The Long Beach YMCA Youth Institute began with a weeklong camping trip to encourage team-building and continued with five weeks of activities that help students develop technology skills.
These programs all have one thing in common: They are all subject to the availability of scarce financial resources. With an average registration fee of $250 per week, high-quality summer learning programs can be out of reach for families struggling to make ends meet. Policymakers can greatly improve access to these opportunities in 2015 by prioritizing funding for them right now.
Keeping kids engaged the rest of the year is a major objective for the Long Beach Unified School District, which is implementing Linked Learning strategies that integrate rigorous academics, career exploration and work-based learning into the high school experience. The district also pairs students with mentors and internships, and offers job shadowing and service learning opportunities that exemplify connections between school and work.
As a parent, I like this approach because I want my sons to understand the value of their education as a pathway to rewarding careers.
As a coach, I am equally concerned about the problem of weight gain during the summer months. Research shows that, on average, during the summer children put on almost half the total weight gain they acquire during the entire year. Weight problems make it harder for young people to participate actively in school sports, which further prevents them from getting adequate exercise. They are also a contributing factor to many serious medical problems as children and adults, as well as shorter life spans.
Fortunately, as a result of congressional passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun to implement updated standards to improve the nutritional quality of foods offered to students in public schools, including more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer sugar-sweetened beverages.
There is so much more that we can do.
Coaches and athletes can emphasize the importance of eating healthy foods, exercising and staying hydrated. School administrators can build on their success in providing healthy foods by offering better access to fresh, free drinking water as an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. And parents can do their part at home by getting rid of unhealthy snacks and finding ways to keep kids active during the summer and all year long.