September 8, 2015 – Yesterday I walked across the Mackinac Bridge with my family, the Governor and tens of thousands of other people in celebration of the end of summer. It was the first time that we had ever made the walk and participated in the throng of humanity that makes it, many year after year. This was truly an awesome experience, making us all feel a little prouder of our state, for sure. However, as we started across the bridge in the rain, it was obvious that some of us would have an easier time of it than others. There were people pushing strollers that slipped on the wet concrete and got stuck on the metal grates, there were people with canes, limps and other indications that the long walk would be a struggle for them.
With my three kids, all very healthy, we had a pretty easy time of it, but there were clearly people who were better prepared than we were. Sometimes we, and those going at a faster pace than we were, found ourselves frustrated by the extra time needed by the folks who couldn’t go as quickly or who needed some extra help by the many National Guard members who were there to make sure that everyone who started across would make it to the finish.
Today marks the first day of school for most students in Michigan. The bridge walk made me think a lot about the summer learning graphic illustrating the different impact of the summer months that serves to increase the learning gaps between poorer kids and their more affluent peers. In the summer, kids who have expanded learning opportunities through family travels, summer enrichment programs and specific assistance to build literacy and numeracy skills or catch up where they have fallen behind, continue to progress educationally. Kids who don’t have any of those things actually fall behind over those months, starting school today even further behind than they were when they left in June.
So, in the case of the bridge walk, those who made it across the fastest would be like the kids who start school today having gotten those 6,000 hours of extra learning by the 6th grade – through literacy and other enriching activities with family members able to spend that time with them; and through extra learning time during the school year and in the summer in quality expanded learning opportunities. Those who moved more slowly needed that additional time and assistance to be able to complete the trip. Many students are starting school today who have not been afforded that time or assistance, and are beginning the school year further behind than they left it.
Michigan’s Children is testifying before the State Board today about investments that are necessary if Michigan really wants to become a top ten state for education, reiterating the pieces we’ve been talking about through our August Issues edition, Making Michigan a Top 10 Education State by Shrinking the Learning Gap and our Bridge commentary. One of those necessary investments is in expanded learning – before-and after school programs, summer learning programs and other opportunities to bolster the learning that goes on during the typical school day and year.
The most challenged children, youth, families, schools and communities need to have better access to learning in the summer. There are amazing programs across the state that serve to close those gaps. Evaluation of a small summer learning investment that Michigan made a few years ago showed stark differences between the typical educational loss for students without those summer experiences, and the significant academic gain for the students who participated. Funding that supports those programs has not been included in state budgets for several years, and high quality programs are not accessible through the state for families who cannot afford to pay for them.
Let this be the last first day of school where we allow students to start further behind than when they left. Let’s commit this year to investing in expanded learning through the school year and in the summer, allowing everyone to begin in September a step ahead.
– Michele Corey