Thursday is National Summer Learning Day. That’s a day focused on the importance of keeping kids learning and also safe and healthy during the summer, so they can be ready to succeed when they return to school in the fall.

Summer is an opportunity for students to enjoy long, lazy days of fun, relaxation and new experiences. But if learning isn’t a part of those experiences, students are at risk of the “summer slide.” Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities put youth at risk of falling behind in core academic subjects such as math and reading.

Disadvantaged children are particularly vulnerable to the summer slide. The math and reading skills that low-income students lose each summer add up, year after year. In fact, summer learning loss “is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate,” according to the National Summer Learning Association. That national nonprofit focuses on closing the achievement gap by increasing summer learning opportunities for all youth.

The summer slide can have lifelong consequences. The National Summer Learning Association says summer learning loss “contributes to gaps in achievement, employment and college and career success.”

Fortunately, here in Portland, the Portland Public Schools and numerous community partners take steps to combat the summer slide with a variety of free, fun and instructive learning experiences from kindergarten through high school.

ConnectED, a partnership of organizations committed to improving educational outcomes in Portland, focuses on preventing the summer slide among its several initiatives. ConnectEd partners such as the Portland Public Library, the city of Portland, Portland Public Schools, the University of Southern Maine, Southern Maine Community College, Opportunity Alliance, and United Way of Greater Portland cooperate on programs designed to curb the summer slide.

Other Summer Programming Partners include the Boys &Girls Club, LearningWorks, Mayo Street Arts, A Company of Girls, and the Rotary Club of Portland. Funding for some of this programming comes from a variety of organizations, including the John T. Gorman Foundation, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation and Texas Instruments, among others.

Some programs are already underway, but others are still accepting participants. To find out more, visit portlandschools.org and click on the Portland Schools Summer Programs Information banner across the front page. You can also call (207) 874-8100 or email us at [email protected].

Among the exciting options for children is I ♥ Reading in Portland: Pedal Through the Pages. That program, offered in partnership between the Portland Public Schools and the Portland Public Library, encourages children to read about and explore Portland this summer.

Another example is Designing Hand Pollinators, a fun, engineering-themed program that LearningWorks is offering to students in grades 2-5 at some of our district’s elementary schools. The students learn about the importance of bees and other insects in pollinating plants and then learn how to pollinate plants themselves.

We have many instructional programs in our schools, STEM camps with exciting, project-based learning activities and “step up to college” programs with our post-secondary partners.

As well as drawing attention to the need to prevent the summer slide, National Summer Learning Day also highlights the importance of keeping children healthy in the summer months.

To stay healthy, children need adequate nutrition, which is why the Portland Public Schools and Opportunity Alliance are operating summer meal sites across the city again this summer through mid-August. Many of our approximately 6,800 Portland Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch based on family income. Their hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation.

Meals are available free to all children and teens age 18 and younger. In addition to the nutritious meals, kids also can partake in games and other enrichment activities. An interactive map of meal sites can be found under the Summer Programs information on our website.

To celebrate our summer meals program and National Summer Learning Day, we’re hosting a Summer Success Picnic on Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Deering Oaks. There will be performances, music jam sessions, face painting, learning activities, prizes and a free lunch for anyone 18 years old or younger. Please come join us for this celebration of summer learning!

I am proud of the Portland Public Schools’ many partners, who are committed to working with us to ensure our students continue learning and thriving during the summer break.