While the summer can be a season of rest and relaxation, for too many low-income students in Baltimore, summer means idle time, boredom and "brain drain." Research shows that many city kids don't read during the summer. They don't run and play. They don't get the same nutritious, balanced meals that they get during the school year.
By the time they return to school in the fall, low-income students without access to learning and recreational opportunities will be behind their more privileged peers. They come back having lost the equivalent of two months of math skills and more than that in reading. Each subsequent summer, the loss compounds. Summer learning loss is related to a persistent achievement gap between black and white students, higher school dropout rates and lower college attendance.
There is no doubt — summer matters.
This year, Baltimore is addressing summer learning loss in a coordinated effort to reach as many young people as possible. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, schools CEO Andrés Alonso and the Baltimore City Public Schools, city agencies, and nonprofits (including Parks & People Foundation, the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association, United Way of Central Maryland's 211, private foundations and others) have joined forces to create Baltimore City Super Summer to maximize resources and keep kids engaged, learning and healthy throughout the warmer months.
With this innovative partnership — created by the mayor's youth cabinet and made possible by the generosity of local philanthropies — we will reach more schoolchildren this summer with learning, meals, camps and programs. A major new initiative is the creation of Summer Learning Academies with several hundred new slots, including programming at SuperKids Camp, for students going into first through fourth grade who have been identified as needing reading support. By making learning a year-round activity, students are likely to be reading at grade level by the end of third grade and be on track for high school graduation and future success.
With all programs within the partnership connected, every time a parent or student learns about reading programs, for example, he or she also gets information about free summer meals.
Funding provided by members of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers will make summer in Baltimore truly super for more kids, for a greater part of the day and for more weeks. There will be more reading, more learning, more swimming, more robotics, more field trips, more arts and crafts and more book giveaways.
And because summer months can be hungry ones for young people who get meals in school during the academic year, agencies have come together to help in that area as well. The city housing department, the Family League of Baltimore City and city schools will provide free and fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner at sites around the city, five days a week. At the same time, Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit that works to end childhood hunger, has 30 full-time staffers canvassing city neighborhoods, sharing the Super Summer message and connecting young people to meals and other programs.
The Baltimore City Super Summer message is working. SuperKids Camp, which serves rising second- to fourth-graders with learning, recreation and activities, generally enrolls students into the first week of July. But this year, camp slots were filled by the beginning of June, and there is a waiting list, speaking to the need for more summer programs.
This collaboration is a model of how government, public agencies and the private sector can join together to create innovative ways to serve youth. In this case, the eagerness of all partners to collaborate shows that Baltimoreans understand that summer learning loss is a real problem and that we have the will and resources to address it.
With this increased cooperation and connection, students will return to school ready to learn and progress in their studies. Graduation rates will improve. More students will go on to college and meaningful careers. It all begins with a super summer.
Linda Eberhart is executive director of the Office of Teaching and Learning in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Sally J. Michel is the chairman of the board of the Parks & People Foundation.