The last bells of the school year are a sound that many people connect with joyful pursuits outfitted with beach trips and backyard barbecues.
But the reality for many families is that the final day of the school year is a harbinger of challenging times—difficult disruptions to workers’ schedules to provide safe childcare options, an absence of regular nutritious school-provided meals brings on spikes in food insecurity, and weeks without formal instruction causes many of our most vulnerable students to face an academic backslide. All of this makes the demands of summer difficult for many of our community’s families.
Many students, regardless of their race or family income, experienced pandemic-related learning loss following the Covid pandemic and Hurricane Ian’s disruptions, but students from income-constrained households were disproportionately affected. These last few years have truly been a series of tests for school-aged children and their families, widening existing learning gaps.
Fortunately, our community has several nonprofit organizations with expertise in youth development. These organizations are crafting innovative programs that meet students where they are to amplify the impact of summer programs and mitigate challenges of the season.
The Community Foundation of Sarasota County has provided grant support to local nonprofit providers of summer programs for local youth who would benefit from extra help and whose families rely on the safety and support summer programs supply. Through $170,000 in grants, we’re helping these organizations serve nearly 600 of our most vulnerable students attending K-12 public schools. Here’s a look at some of the programs and their unique approaches for empowering young at-risk people.
Girls Incorporated of Sarasota County (Girls Inc.) offers plenty of academic programs, from literacy to STEM, in an all-girl setting that can foster character building in a nurturing environment. This support will provide access through scholarships to ensure that there is no financial barrier for any girl to attend. Along with supporting the healthy development of girls, all students have access to the Family Strengthening Program, which provides social-emotional group instruction that can be critical for girls and their support systems. Girls Inc. provides healthy meals to children onsite and sends girls home with meals for their families.
The Great Futures Academy at Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties gives students from low-income houses access to quality instruction led by board-certified teachers. The instructional aspect of the program is designed to offer students a seamless educational experience, with diagnostic learning assessments and appropriate curriculum implemented by teachers. Field trips and other activities—art projects, structured play, and college and career exploration—round out their days. Students receive breakfast, lunch, and snacks daily.
J5 Experience serves a small cohort of students referred by their regular classroom teacher or family. Small group or one-on-one instruction can support this group of vulnerable students while providing them with a safe space to learn with their peers.
For many students living in public housing, it’s not just the cost of summer programming but also transportation that provides a barrier to access. The Sarasota Housing Authority’s Youth Thrive Summer Program addresses the challenge by providing onsite youth education and enrichment programs for youth living in public housing, the surrounding Newtown area, and homeless youth. Connected to a network of community partners, such as Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative and The Ringling Museum, the Youth Thrive program offers more than standard academic curriculum.
In a changing world that is becoming reliant on technology at a breathtaking pace, instruction in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields is a vital component of preparing youth for their future. FUNducation, a program that gives access to hands-on STEAM activities, partners with programs that serve underrepresented communities, like Youth Thrive and J5 Experience. To build on their existing summer experience, these students will have a chance to learn about robotics, esports, and other areas of innovation that will extend into the school year.
Investing in our youth is investing in our future, with a high return on investment. Ensuring that all of our community’s children can achieve their potential is a priority we can’t neglect, especially in the wake of events that have severely shaken their educational foundation. How fortunate we are to live in a community of generous people committed to safeguarding our future, and the organizations that can see their commitment to fruition. Today’s children are key to tomorrow’s community strength.