A new report released recently found that one of the tools to use to begin chipping away at the persistent educational achievement gap that African American, Latino, and low-income children face is not being fully used.

“America After 3pm, Special Report on Summer” found that in 2008 only about 3 million African American school children (about 35 percent) participated in a summer learning program, while the parents of another 4.4 million were interested in doing so.

The study surveyed nearly 30,000 households across the United States about what their children did in the summer of 2008.

The report pinpointed a pent-up and unmet demand for meaningful summer learning opportunities, which are a critical component in the battle to close the achievement gap, said an official with the Afterschool Alliance.

“When we leave children unsupervised during the summer, we miss critical opportunities to improve their academic achievement, and we take away crucial supports like nutritious meals and snacks,” explained Jodi Grant, executive director of the Alliance.

Grant’s comments reflect other findings in the study including the fact that 43 percent of the estimated 14.3 million children attending these summer programs qualify for free and reduced priced lunches.

Additionally, the report found that many children who do not attend summer programs are unsupervised during the day.

“The long summer break is a precarious time, when many low-income children fall behind academically, and lose the nutritious meals, supervision and structure that school provides,” added Ron Fairchild, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association. “This survey shows just how great the demand is for meaningful summer activities, and that too many children are left waiting for quality programs; the very children who benefit most, if given the opportunity . . . .”

To combat this summer education loss, the report recommends that elected officials prioritize this issue and find the money to fully fund, expand and create more summer education programs.