Children and youth from low income families experience an opportunity gap, especially in the summer, that is difficult to overcome and will lead to academic slide. According to the National Center on Summer Learning and Enrichment, summer programming has been shown to improve school attachment, motivation and relationships with adults and peers. They also noted than only 1 in 8 children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch during the school year are able to access the meals in summer. YouthConnect provides dinner for participants. In Worcester, where 1 in 4 go to bed hungry, this program will make a huge difference as dinner and snacks are provided to participants.
The Worcester Public Schools enrolled 25,479 in the last school year, with a poverty rate of 22.8% (vs. 10.5 % in Massachusetts) and a median household income of $45,869. In Massachusetts, 13.3% of children live in poverty and in Worcester that number is 26.7%. The Commonwealth’s students with disabilities is 17.7% and Worcester’s is 18.8%. Perhaps most striking is the economically disadvantaged numbers, in Massachusetts it is 32% and in Worcester it is almost 60%. This population needs strategies that address the opportunity gap that 6 out of 10 of our students experience. The YouthConnect Summer program does that, by providing safe, structured, high-yield learning opportunities for youth that will change the trajectory of their lives.
The time of day matters also. This is a high risk time for youth. YouthConnect Summer provides a much needed service for youth and also to our community by engaging a difficult to engage age group during a time period that has been identified by civic leaders and law enforcement as critical.