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Quick and Dirty

Summer Reading Is Fundamental

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 6/7/2006

For more information on summer learning programs in Baltimore visit www.summerlearning.org.

For most kids, summer break is about fun activities and getting away from classes and homework. But for schoolchildren, particularly those from low-income households who don’t read or practice other learning skills at home during summer months, that break away can take a serious toll on their educations.

According to Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Johns Hopkins-based Center for Summer Learning, kids who don’t read or participate in some kind of educational activity over the summer fall behind in school. For kids who aren’t reading during the summer from kindergarten on, “the cumulative losses by the time a child gets to fifth grade can be as great as two years as a direct result of summer learning loss,” Fairchild says.

“Low-income kids lose over two months of reading performance each summer of their elementary school years,” he says. “Those losses explain as much as 50 to 67 percent of the widening in the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers.”

The Center for Summer Learning has been working in Baltimore to increase the quality and quantity of summer education programs, and this year it is partnering with a handful of city agencies and organizations to that end. For example, the center will work with the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which for the past 70 years has run a summer reading program for city children. The program, which will take place June 10 through Aug. 5, encourages kids to read at least one book per week during the summertime. The library offers fun incentives, such as a night out at the Maryland Science Center, for kids who meet or exceed the program’s requirements.

“The goal of the program is to encourage students to not only read during the summer, but to help them to not lose valuable lessons that they learned during the school year, while having fun,” says Mona Rock, spokeswoman for the Pratt Library. Children must be signed up by a parent or responsible adult to take part in the program.

The center is also assisting the Baltimore City Public School System in implementing a new endeavor called the Early Learning Program, which offers reading and math programs for kids from kindergarten through second grade. The four-week program joins the school system’s other summer learning programs that help kids in third through eighth grade and kids transitioning from eighth grade to high school.

“We believe that if we can keep children engaged, especially our young students, it will pay off for us” in the long run, says Everene Johnson-Turner, deputy to the chief academic officer for the city school system. The school system also offers the Summer Review Program, which allows kids to make up courses they didn’t do well in during the previous academic year.

The Center for Summer Learning is also working with Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), a national summer learning organization that operates in several cities, including Baltimore. According to Carole Prest, executive director of the organization, BELL offers courses eight hours per day, five days per week for six weeks of the summer. The program offers tutoring in reading and math to 100 children from Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle School, and also offers enrichment activities like drama, dance, and community service.

The Center for Summer Learning is trying to help the school system and BELL recruit college interns so the programs can reach as many kids as possible. Fairchild says that the interest in summer educational opportunities for kids is growing. But more work needs to be done, especially when it comes to bridging the gap for the city’s low-income kids.

“All of these programs are promising signs that Baltimore is continuing to make summer learning a priority,” Fairchild says. “However, there’s much work that still needs to be done in order to make sure that all young people receive the opportunities they need to learn over the summer months.”

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