As schools dismiss for the summer, kids look forward to the long summer break. For some, that means carefree days at the pool, a fun and enriching camp experience, a family vacation, and a long list of summer reading to enjoy. After three months fly by, they will head back to school, ready to calculate the area of a circle and read more challenging books than they read in the spring. This isn't every child's story, however.


Academic Regression for Children in Low-Income Families

Unfortunately, that idyllic summer isn't what every child gets to experience. For children from lower-income families, summer often means less structure, no school lunches, and not enough to do to keep busy or continue to learn. They return to school in the fall having regressed academically by up to two months from when they left in the spring.

That learning loss has been termed the “summer slide,” and some kids never recover. By sixth grade, they can fall behind academically by as much as one full year.

The summer slide is more pronounced in lower-income families, whose parents cannot afford quality summer opportunities that promote learning and enrichment.


Summer in the City

United Way of Central Iowa saw a great need in the greater Des Moines community to engage low-income children in meaningful and productive activities in the summer months. To curb learning loss, we started Summer in the City. Summer in the City includes programs at 21 locations throughout central Iowa and involves more than 1,000 school-age children and their parents.

Locations & Programs

  • Starfish Academy programs at King, McKinley and Monroe elementary schools—serving three of Des Moines’ lowest-income neighborhoods. For six weeks, United Way and nonprofit partners will engage children in academics as well as art, physical activity, and nutritious food.

  • Programs for older youth at two Des Moines city parks in lower-income neighborhoods

  • Summer enrichment programs at elementary schools in Urbandale and West Des Moines, as well as central Iowa middle schools

  • The Summer Youth Employment program at Oakridge Neighborhood Services and the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families—giving teens their first real-world work experiences and the opportunity to explore college and future career interests

Thanks to Summer in the City, in 2015, students throughout the three Starfish Academy sites not only maintained their learning but saw up to three months of improvement, on average!

Watch our video to learn more about how Summer in the City is helping kids and young adults in our community by offering them opportunities many of them otherwise wouldn't have.


Summer in the City reversed the summer slide for some children, but there is still much to do in our community, especially in regards to early childhood reading.

1 in 4 central Iowa children cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade.

That’s why United Way of Central Iowa launched READ to SUCCEED—a ground-breaking, community-wide awareness and action campaign to help our kids gain the skills they need to succeed in school and after graduation.

We invite you to volunteer to help kids become proficient readers. Visit our READ to SUCCEED website for volunteer opportunities and a toolkit of action YOU can take to help children during the summer months and throughout the school year.

Learn More About READ to SUCCEED

TAGS: Education, Volunteer

Kate Bennett

About The Author: Kate Bennett

Kate Bennett is the Community Impact Officer for Education.