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The Cost of Summer

This report was originally published August 14, 2018.

When school is out, students without the means to pay for summer camps and vacations stand to lose two to three months of learning, according to experts. With summer activities out of their financial reach, a Raleigh family got creative.

It’s the last day of school at East Millbrook Middle School in Raleigh. Loud speakers announce the start of summer and the arrival of school buses to take kids home. Students trickle out of doorways, saying goodbye to each other and their teachers.

Ayeisha Owens waits in the carpool line to pick up her daughter Karisma, 9, on her last day of school on Friday, June 8, 2018. “I felt anxious,” she said. “Only because I didn’t know what they would be doing.”
Madeline Gray/Madeline Gray
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Ayeisha Owens waits in the carpool line to pick up her daughter Karisma, 9, on her last day of school on Friday, June 8, 2018. “I felt anxious,” she said. “Only because I didn’t know what they would be doing.”

Thirty-six-year-old Ayeisha Owens picks up her daughter Kaiden and drives down the road to pick up her younger daughter Karisma from an elementary school nearby. She waits in the carpool line behind dozens of cars, feeling anxious. But she doesn’t let on to her daughters. She’s taken a half day off work to pick them up.

“Sorry I’m so late Mommy,” Karisma says, hopping into the backseat of her mom’s SUV, opposite her sister. “Ms. Garrett gave me a cupcake, then she had to sign my yearbook.”

“Wait, wait a second, Karisma,” her mom says. “You don’t even like cupcakes!”

Her older sister Kaiden, 12, clutches her pink and velour backpack and gives her mom the rundown on her yearbook.

“I have a best friends page, and a regular people page,” she says.

Kaiden has just finished her last day of the sixth grade – Karisma, the third grade.

From this car ride home until late August, they’ll pretty much be free of obligation. And that – the thought of her girls at home for days on end, without structured activity or learning opportunities – was unnerving to their mother.

“Only because I didn’t know what they would be doing,”Ayeisha said.

Some families have the means to send their kids to costly summer activities, like robotics camp or horseback riding lessons or weeks-long vacations. Ayeisha does not.

“As a mother, it’s disheartening, because it’s like I can’t even provide them certain aspects,” Ayeisha said. “I just feel like they could be doing more, or they’re missing out on something.”

Ayeisha Owens jokes with her daughters Karisma and Kaiden about eating yogurt right before dinner on their last day of school before summer break. Ayeisha says that Friday nights used to be pizza night, but now that the girls are older, they have much busier schedules. Kaiden is acting in the play Oliver and they had to eat dinner before all going to opening night of the performance.
Madeline Gray/Madeline Gray
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Ayeisha Owens jokes with her daughters Karisma and Kaiden about eating yogurt right before dinner on their last day of school before summer break. Ayeisha says that Friday nights used to be pizza night, but now that the girls are older, they have much busier schedules. Kaiden is acting in the play Oliver and they had to eat dinner before all going to opening night of the performance.

A study from the U-S Department of Education found that kids from low-income families are thirty percent less likely to go to a day camp than their wealthier classmates. And that may have an impact on their academic achievement. According to an analysis published in the Review of Educational Research, low-income students tend to lose one to three months worth of reading skills during the summer while their peers from wealthier families tend to gain them.

Ayeisha knows the situation all too well.

“They say a lot of their friends can go to certain camps through the Y, which is very expensive,” she said. “I’m like, ‘You can’t go there. That’s not something we could do.’”

Ayeisha said she has found some camps that offer financial help, but that she doesn’t qualify.

“I fall in that in between where I don’t make enough, but I make too much,” she said. “It’s like, well, it’s just me and two kids, so there’s no way I make enough for anything, you know!”

Karisma and Kaiden’s father died unexpectedly six years ago. Karisma recently wrote an essay about the experience, which left her and her sister struggling to understand their grief, and left her mother as the family’s sole breadwinner.

“I knew he wasn’t coming back, but I didn’t know it meant forever,” Karisma wrote. “I really just wanted my dad to pick me up, and never let me go.”

Ayeisha has done everything to keep the memory of her girls’ father alive and to provide for her daughters. She works full-time as a medical billing specialist and occasionally picks up part-time jobs on the side.

Ayeisha’s grandmother, Maude Owens, lives with the family and helps care for the girls. This summer, she’s the girls’ only adult supervision when Ayeisha is at work.

The 78-year-old usually holds court in the living room and watches daytime judge shows or 1970s sitcoms like “Emergency!”.

Ayeisha has tried to sign her daughters up for camps through Raleigh Parks and Rec. One year, she got to the office for registration and found a line out the door. The next year, signup moved online. She remembers trying to log in at midnight, then 5 a.m. The website kept crashing.

“That process in itself was just so exhausting,” she said. “I felt defeated, because I’m like, ‘Well, I have to work, I don’t have time to sit up all night long, waiting on a computer to sign up. This is not concert tickets.’”

I felt defeated, because I’m like, ‘Well, I have to work, I don’t have time to sit up all night long, waiting on a computer to sign up. This is not concert tickets.’

Both years, the girls ended up on a waitlist. Ayeisha would get a call a few days before a spot opened up at a weeklong camp.

“And I’m like, you can’t call me today and tell me in two days, or tomorrow, you need $100 or more dollars,” she said. “I don’t have that….So there were weeks I had to let go.”

Kaiden loves acting. Her mom tried and didn’t have any luck finding an affordable theater camp this year. But Kaiden successfully auditioned for a local, professional production of the musical Oliver this summer. So instead of paying to attend a camp, Kaiden got paid a small stipend for acting and singing in a professional production.

Madeline Gray
/
For WUNC

Kaiden Clark, left, and Karisma Clark, right, inspect their small garden at home during summer break. They found tomato plants in the woods behind their house and bought some spinach and flower seeds from Walmart. Kaiden feels that "the garden is a little homely and needs some maintenance."
Madeline Gray/Madeline Gray
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Kaiden Clark, left, and Karisma Clark, right, inspect their small garden at home during summer break. They found tomato plants in the woods behind their house and bought some spinach and flower seeds from Walmart. Kaiden feels that "the garden is a little homely and needs some maintenance."

Other than that, Kaiden and Karisma have spent their summer days biking and skating, choreographing dance routines in the living room, and searching for their favorite neighborhood rodent: Moochie the Groundhog.

“We led a trail of bread to go to our house,” Karisma said. “Like, ‘Come down, Moochie, you’re welcome to eat our weeds!’”

Still, Ayeisha has worried about them getting bored – and not getting the learning opportunities they could at a summer camp.

“They always say, ‘No, mommy. We’re fine. Don’t worry about it,’” Ayeisha said. “But as a mom, it’s like, what is there that I can do? It’s very…very disappointing.”

In July, Kaiden started a mock school she called The Academy” in the family’s living room. She came up with a course schedule to teach her younger sister language arts, math, science, and even home economics.

“I came home last night, and Karisma was really showing me her homework as if, ‘Mommy look what I did in school today,” Ayeisha said. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m just trying to eat this ice cream sandwich in peace. You’re up here showing me some fake homework? Like, what is going on?’”

Kaiden Clark, left, explains an online geography game to her mom Ayeisha Owens, center, and her sister Karisma Clark, right, at home during summer break. While Ayeisha is at work, the girls spend most of their break at home with their great-grandmother Maude Owens.
Madeline Gray/Madeline Gray
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Kaiden Clark, left, explains an online geography game to her mom Ayeisha Owens, center, and her sister Karisma Clark, right, at home during summer break. While Ayeisha is at work, the girls spend most of their break at home with their great-grandmother Maude Owens.

Ayeisha thinks back to something the girls’ father said to Kaiden.

“To make sure that she always taught her sister everything that she knew,” Ayeisha said. “And so she took that to heart. Especially when she started school, she’s always come home and shared with her, ‘This is what I’m learning. This is what we’re doing.’”

“If they don’t get along at no other point, if they’re getting along in that moment, I’m happy about it. I’m okay.”

Education experts say informal, at-home learning can prevent kids from losing ground ahead of the school year. Even so, Ayeisha believes more public resources should be put towards affordable summer programs.

“My girls thankfully – I may not be able to put them in activities – but they do have things at home to keep them occupied and to keep them learning,” she said. “And everyone doesn’t have that.“

Some school districts in North Carolina have turned to year-round schools, in part, as a way to prevent kids from losing knowledge during the summer. But advocates say government budgets largely haven’t made summer learning a priority.

“I think it just further pushes kids further and further away,” Ayeisha said.

A list of school supplies for the upcoming year hangs on the refrigerator at the home that Kaiden and Karisma Clark share with their mom Ayeisha Owens and their great-grandmother Maude Owens.
Madeline Gray/Madeline Gray
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A list of school supplies for the upcoming year hangs on the refrigerator at the home that Kaiden and Karisma Clark share with their mom Ayeisha Owens and their great-grandmother Maude Owens.

Ayeisha remembers feeling a lot of “nervousness,” she said, at the start of summer vacation.

A couple months later, amid plans for back-to-school shopping, she thinks her daughters are doing just fine – especially since they’ve found ways to keep learning that go beyond formal lessons and textbooks and expensive summer camps.

“I see that they have entertained themselves and they’re not complaining and they’re fine and they’re finding things to do to keep themselves busy,” she said.

Some of her favorite summer moments, Ayeisha said, have been coming home after a long day of work and hearing what the girls have gotten up to.

One day it could be wandering the woods, and another, an impromptu karaoke session.

They’ve gone somewhere, they’ve done something,” Ayeisha said. “So I’m okay. I’m feeling a little better about it.

Credits

The Cost of Summer
The Cost of Summer
The Cost of Summer
Kaiden Clark, 12, shows her mom Ayeisha Owens her yearbook while they wait in the car to pick up Kaiden's younger sister Karisma from Underwood Magnet Elementary on her last day of school before summer break. Ayeisha went through the magnet school program in Raleigh and made sure that her daughters have had the same opportunity.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
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For WUNC
Kaiden Clark, 12, shows her mom Ayeisha Owens her yearbook while they wait in the car to pick up Kaiden's younger sister Karisma from Underwood Magnet Elementary on her last day of school before summer break. Ayeisha went through the magnet school program in Raleigh and made sure that her daughters have had the same opportunity.
Kaiden Clark, 12, smiles in the backseat of her mom's car after being picked up from East Millbrook Middle School on her last day before summer break on Friday, June 8, 2018.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
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For WUNC
Kaiden Clark, 12, smiles in the backseat of her mom's car after being picked up from East Millbrook Middle School on her last day before summer break on Friday, June 8, 2018.
Kaiden Clark, 12, points out her picture in the yearbook in the backseat of her mom's car after being picked up from East Millbrook Middle School on her last day before summer break on Friday, June 8, 2018.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Kaiden Clark, 12, points out her picture in the yearbook in the backseat of her mom's car after being picked up from East Millbrook Middle School on her last day before summer break on Friday, June 8, 2018.
Karisma Clark, 9, holds up a photo album that includes photos of her mom and dad. Her dad passed away when she was very young but Karisma has written about the strength and confidence that he gave her.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Karisma Clark, 9, holds up a photo album that includes photos of her mom and dad. Her dad passed away when she was very young but Karisma has written about the strength and confidence that he gave her.
Karisma Clark, 9, sits in the bedroom she shares with her 12-year-old sister on their last day of school before summer break. For Christmas the girls' mom Ayeisha Owens surprised them by redecorating their room.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Karisma Clark, 9, sits in the bedroom she shares with her 12-year-old sister on their last day of school before summer break. For Christmas the girls' mom Ayeisha Owens surprised them by redecorating their room.
Karisma Clark, 9, left, and Kaiden Clark, 12, right, goof around in their bedroom in the house that they share with their mom and great-grandmother. For Christmas the girls' mom Ayeisha Owens surprised them by redecorating their room.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Karisma Clark, 9, left, and Kaiden Clark, 12, right, goof around in their bedroom in the house that they share with their mom and great-grandmother. For Christmas the girls' mom Ayeisha Owens surprised them by redecorating their room.
Kaiden Clark, right, hugs her mom Ayeisha Owens, left, during intermission of the play Oliver put on by the Justice Theatre Project at Umstead Park United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Ayeisha and her other daughter Karisma Clark helped backstage. Ayeisha said that Kaiden already had several other auditions in mind for future productions.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Kaiden Clark, right, hugs her mom Ayeisha Owens, left, during intermission of the play Oliver put on by the Justice Theatre Project at Umstead Park United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Ayeisha and her other daughter Karisma Clark helped backstage. Ayeisha said that Kaiden already had several other auditions in mind for future productions.
Ayeisha Owens adjusts her daughter Kaiden Clark's costume before Kaiden performs in the play Oliver put on by the Justice Theatre Project at Umstead Park United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Ayeisha and her daughter Karisma Clark helped backstage. Ayeisha said that Kaiden already had several other auditions in mind for future productions.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Ayeisha Owens adjusts her daughter Kaiden Clark's costume before Kaiden performs in the play Oliver put on by the Justice Theatre Project at Umstead Park United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Ayeisha and her daughter Karisma Clark helped backstage. Ayeisha said that Kaiden already had several other auditions in mind for future productions.
Kaiden Clark puts on makeup before performing in the play Oliver put on by the Justice Theatre Project at Umstead Park United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Her mom Ayeisha Owens and sister Karisma Clark helped backstage. Ayeisha said that Kaiden already had several other auditions in mind for future productions.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Kaiden Clark puts on makeup before performing in the play Oliver put on by the Justice Theatre Project at Umstead Park United Church of Christ on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Her mom Ayeisha Owens and sister Karisma Clark helped backstage. Ayeisha said that Kaiden already had several other auditions in mind for future productions.
Kaiden and Karisma Clark play the computer game Little Alchemy at home during summer break. While their mom Ayeisha Owens is at work, the girls spend most of their time at home with their great-grandmother Maude Owens. Kaiden and Karisma make up games, ride their bikes, play on Pinterest, and create their own school in which Kaiden is the teacher and the principal, and Karisma is the student.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Kaiden and Karisma Clark play the computer game Little Alchemy at home during summer break. While their mom Ayeisha Owens is at work, the girls spend most of their time at home with their great-grandmother Maude Owens. Kaiden and Karisma make up games, ride their bikes, play on Pinterest, and create their own school in which Kaiden is the teacher and the principal, and Karisma is the student.
Kaiden and Karisma Clark play at home during summer break in Raleigh. While their mom Ayeisha Owens is at work, the girls spend most of their time at home with their great-grandmother Maude Owens. Kaiden and Karisma make up games, ride their bikes, play on Pinterest, and create their own school in which Kaiden is the teacher and the principal, and Karisma is the student.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Kaiden and Karisma Clark play at home during summer break in Raleigh. While their mom Ayeisha Owens is at work, the girls spend most of their time at home with their great-grandmother Maude Owens. Kaiden and Karisma make up games, ride their bikes, play on Pinterest, and create their own school in which Kaiden is the teacher and the principal, and Karisma is the student.
Karisma Clark, left, watches as her sister Kaiden Clark, right, organizes the lesson plans she put together to teach Karisma in their at-home "school". Kaiden is both the principal and the teacher while Karisma is the student who must do her homework and complete reading assignments. They have a school schedule that they follow each day. Usually each "class" is about an hour, but Kaiden admits, "the classes I really don't want to teach are like 20 minutes, like P.E."
Madeline Gray/Madeline Gray /
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Karisma Clark, left, watches as her sister Kaiden Clark, right, organizes the lesson plans she put together to teach Karisma in their at-home "school". Kaiden is both the principal and the teacher while Karisma is the student who must do her homework and complete reading assignments. They have a school schedule that they follow each day. Usually each "class" is about an hour, but Kaiden admits, "the classes I really don't want to teach are like 20 minutes, like P.E."
Kaiden Clark reads through a math assignment she put together to teach her younger sister Karisma in their at-home "school". Kaiden is both the principal and the teacher while Karisma is the student who must do her homework and complete reading assignments. They have a school schedule that they follow each day. Usually each "class" is about an hour, but Kaiden admits, "the classes I really don't want to teach are like 20 minutes, like P.E."
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Kaiden Clark reads through a math assignment she put together to teach her younger sister Karisma in their at-home "school". Kaiden is both the principal and the teacher while Karisma is the student who must do her homework and complete reading assignments. They have a school schedule that they follow each day. Usually each "class" is about an hour, but Kaiden admits, "the classes I really don't want to teach are like 20 minutes, like P.E."
Ayeisha Owens, left, and her daughters Karisma Clark, center, and Kaiden Clark, right, shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Ayeisha insisted that the girls buy clothes that were big enough to last them through next summer as well. She also kept an eye out for anything they could wear once the weather got colder.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Ayeisha Owens, left, and her daughters Karisma Clark, center, and Kaiden Clark, right, shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Ayeisha insisted that the girls buy clothes that were big enough to last them through next summer as well. She also kept an eye out for anything they could wear once the weather got colder.
Karisma Clark tries on sunglasses while her mom Ayeisha Owens and sister Kaiden Clark shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Karisma Clark tries on sunglasses while her mom Ayeisha Owens and sister Kaiden Clark shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018.
Ayeisha Owens, left, and her daughter Kaiden Clark, right, shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Ayeisha insisted that the girls buy clothes that were big enough to last them through next summer as well. She also kept an eye out for anything they could wear once the weather got colder.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Ayeisha Owens, left, and her daughter Kaiden Clark, right, shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Ayeisha insisted that the girls buy clothes that were big enough to last them through next summer as well. She also kept an eye out for anything they could wear once the weather got colder.
Ayeisha Owens, center, and her daughters Kaiden Clark, left, and Karisma Clark, right, shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Ayeisha insisted that the girls buy clothes that were big enough to last them through next summer as well. She also kept an eye out for anything they could wear once the weather got colder.
Madeline Gray / For WUNC
/
For WUNC
Ayeisha Owens, center, and her daughters Kaiden Clark, left, and Karisma Clark, right, shop for some last minute back-to-school clothes on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Ayeisha insisted that the girls buy clothes that were big enough to last them through next summer as well. She also kept an eye out for anything they could wear once the weather got colder.

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