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How K-12 Districts Can Use Location Data to Increase Equity over Summer Break

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Summer: Not a “Vacation” for Every Student 


Mrs. Johnson’s third grade students file into the classroom, take their seats, and open their notebooks to start their bell work. Projected on the whiteboard, a prompt reads: “Summer break is coming soon! Write about a fun trip you might go on, a cool activity you want to try, or a special holiday you will celebrate.” Most students get started right away. Shane writes about attending basketball camp at the local university and meeting his favorite college players. Tracey writes about a family trip to the beach. Mark writes about celebrating his birthday with presents, cake, and a bounce house. Jade doesn’t write anything at all because, unlike her peers, her summer plans are less certain. With school closed for the summer, she worries about where and when she will eat. With her parents away at work all day, she worries about how she will fill her time.

The Summer Care Gap 

But Jade isn’t alone in her uncertainty. More than 10% of American children live in food insecurity. Additionally, in about two-thirds of American households with children, both available parents work and must arrange care for their children when school is out of session. For many, this means piecing together summer camps, programs, and care that costs a good chunk of their earnings. This model is financially and logistically unsustainable for many American families, and some, like Jade’s are left with only one option: leaving their children home alone. Without reliable meals and more capable peers or adults to provide academic enrichment activities, many American children begin the new school year with decreased abilities in essential skills like reading and math. 

Challenges K-12 Districts Face as they Try to Bridge the Gap 

K-12 districts do their best to address summer gaps including providing consistent access to healthy food through federally funded, state-administered summer nutrition programs. The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs provide nutritious meals to kids who participate in qualifying summer school programs. SUN Meals, another summer food service program, allows agencies to distribute food at eligible locations including schools, churches, and parks. However, states report challenges with meal sites, participation, and program administration.  

One of these challenges is selecting an accessible site for the students who most need it. About 20 million pre-high school students live too far to walk or bike to school and about 20% of economically marginalized families do not own a vehicle. So, without bus availability, the optimal site is one that is safely walkable. However, manually mapping all qualifying students’ home addresses, identifying highly concentrated areas of students who receive free and reduced priced lunch, and then selecting a site within walking distance of that location is tedious and time-consuming work.  

Using Student Location Data To Make Faster and Smarter Decisions 

Committed to serving all students, including those who are most in-need, some district leaders have integrated student location data with other student-level data points that they regularly track. Using a comprehensive mapping tool, administrators can load and visualize data so that they can more easily identify trends and make the right decisions, like which neighborhood to select for the site of their summer nutrition program. 

The map below shows a district’s geography with black lines marking school boundaries. Each person icon represents a student’s home location. The fill color indicates free or reduced priced lunch eligibility (See the legend in the top left corner of the map). Notice the concentration of blue in the center of the map – this might be the ideal location for summer meal support and academic enrichment. 

Users can select this area to drill down into the data and see the socio-economic, grade level, and school breakdown of the students who reside within it (See the map below). This information can help school leaders and program administrators rest assured that the location is suitable for a summer food service program. 

By utilizing data analytics software, district leaders can easily identify patterns and make smarter decisions to help students, like Jade, have a worry-free summer.