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Barriers to Participating in Summer Programs Highlighted in Boston Report

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A new report by theĀ Boston-based nonprofit Give a Summer sheds light on how middle school students spend their summers and reveals the barriers many of them face when it comes to enrolling in a summer program.

"Give a Summer's strong belief is that if we're going to understand and increase youth access to summer opportunities, the only way we can do it, in the way very, very few communities are doing now, is to directly ask students and families about their access to summer opportunities and learn from that data and take action as a result," said Ramon Gonzalez, the director of Give a Summer.

The program conducted surveys with more than 500 students and 200 parents at five Boston-area public middle schools over the course of two years. These schools work in partnership with Give a Summer to increase access to summer programming.

The proportion of students at those schools who wanted to participate in a summer program but did not ranged from 20 percent to 47 percent.

The surveys found that the cost of attending summer programs was the greatest barrier to participation, but there were other significant barriers as well such as lack of transportation, lack of knowledge about what type of programming was available, program schedules that don't align with parents' work schedules, and conflicts with family vacations.

Gonzalez said the surveys also revealed some surprises.

"One is just how much participation, interest, and enjoyment at summer programs varied across schools and grades," said Gonzalez. "That was particularly surprising and shows that not only do we have a broad opportunity gap between students from lower-income and higher-income families, but that we have lots of gaps within our neighborhoods and schools and grades."

So what explains those gaps between neighborhoods, schools, and grades? Is it a matter of some schools simply offering better summer programs?

"A few of the schools were in relatively similar neighborhoods, and students often attended the same overlapping programs such that it's not just a reflection of what programs are available, but also about the neighborhoods and environments in which students are in and how successfully those environments help get kids interested and then translate that interest into access to great summer opportunities," said Gonzalez.

He says Give a Summer plans to continue surveying parents and kids, and he encourages other communities to conduct similar surveys.

"If we're actually going to increase youth access to summer opportunities, we have to understand why youth don't have access," said Gonzalez.

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