SACRAMENTO -- If Gagan Lally wasn't attending a middle school summer program during the next month, she'd probably sleep away the mornings, waking to find her days half wasted, she said.
"Now I have a chance to get up and do something exciting for at least six hours," said the 14-year-old Pittsburg resident, who attends a Mt. Diablo district summer program at Riverview Middle School in Bay Point. "It's fun not to spend your summer sitting at home."
Gagan got to do something really different Thursday, when she introduced Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, at a rally marking National Summer Learning Day on the Capitol steps. She and hundreds of other students, many from disadvantaged communities, advocated for more funding and community partnerships to support summer learning programs that could benefit all children in the state.
The event was organized by Summer Matters, a statewide collaborative effort to increase access to quality programs. One of the group's main goals is to prevent "summer learning loss," said Jennifer Peck, executive director of the Partnership for Children and Youth. Studies show that a lack of enriching summer activities for some students can contribute to an achievement gap, she said.
Torlakson said students can lose up to two months of knowledge acquired during the school year if they are not challenged during the summer. Torlakson, a former science teacher in the Mt. Diablo district, stressed the importance of focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- or STEM -- saying knowledge of those subjects will be required for 15 out of 20 jobs in the future.
The Mt. Diablo district and many other summer programs around the state are beefing up their academic offerings as part of the "Summer is STEMtastic" theme. Some programs in Oakland and the South Bay plan to celebrate summer learning day activities at a later date, after the programs get under way.
The East Bay Asian Youth Center in Oakland will emphasize its health theme during a summer learning day event from 9 a.m. to noon June 29 at the downtown farmers market. The Gilroy school district's summer program will host a showcase July 21, where students will demonstrate what they've learned.
Students at the Sacramento event participated in a variety of science activities on the Capitol lawn, including some led by a robotics group and the Techbridge program, which is sponsored by Chevron. Techbridge is training Mt. Diablo district teachers how to engage students with science activities that allow them to be creative and solve problems together.
El Dorado Middle School students experimented with their science projects on the Capitol lawn. They were given small bags of supplies and were challenged to create devices that would allow them to remove a golf ball from beneath a "poison" bush without touching it.
Concord seventh-grader Adrian Criley and a classmate created a "scooper" with aluminum foil, straws, sticks, a pencil, pipe cleaners, tape and rubber bands. They needed to reinforce the sticks and straws with aluminum foil to make it sturdier, said the 12-year-old.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who has championed three bills aimed at strengthening summer learning programs, joined students as they learned how to operate small robotic vehicles. He asked students what they'd be doing if they weren't there.
"Watching TV," said one girl.
Added another: "I'd probably be bored."
DeSaulnier then asked if participating in summer learning activities was making them smarter.
Without hesitation, they shouted: "Yes!"
For details about summer learning programs, go to http://summermatters2you.net.
For details about the rally, go to IBABuzz.com/onassignment.