The participants of the Teach Baltimore program actually choose to be in a place most students want to avoid during the summer months. School.
The brainchild of former Johns Hopkins University students Matthew Boulay, 24, and Fekade Sergwe, 25, Teach Baltimore seeks to match city students who want to continue learning with university students who want teaching experience. The pair said they conceived the program four years ago in response to what they see is a "public education crisis" in Baltimore City.
"It has to do with the summer effect in which studies have shown that students who are left unchallenged have a tendency to forget what they learn over the summer," Mr. Boulay said. "One of the main roadblocks we faced while trying to get [the program] going was people telling us that inner city kids wouldn't be interested in learning during their vacation."
Mr. Sergwe said the 10-week program has grown in the two years since its inception from one group of 50 students taking classes at Southwestern High School to include a program at George Washington Elementary School and a total of 170 students participating this year.
"The kids are fantastic," Mr. Sergwe said. "They show a lot of initiative."
"It reverses the stereotypes of urban students not wanting to get involved in their education," Mr. Boulay added.
Many of the city school students are ninth through eleventh graders who have failed functional reading, writing, math or citizenship tests, Mr. Boulay said. To get a high school diploma, Maryland students need to pass all four exams. The program is free for students and the functional exams are administered by Teach Baltimore at the end of the course.
Southwestern student Justen White, 17, has been involved in Teach Baltimore since the beginning because he has failed the functional math test. He said he is still trying to pass the test and is also taking a course in preparation for the Scholastic Assessment Test.
Justen said he has seen the program improved as more students and teachers got involved. He said he doesn't mind spending his summer in school.
"Nowadays you need as much education as possible," Justen said. "As long as I am doing something positive, that's all that matters to me."
In Doug English's class, students study the basic workings of government in preparation for the state's citizenship test. Mr. English, a graduate student majoring in political science at Johns Hopkins University, has taught some graduate level courses and said he thrives on the challenge of teaching younger students who really want to learn.
"I think that teaching these students is at least as important, if not more important, than teaching graduate students," Mr. English said. "They are really enthusiastic about it."
During a recent class, his students sometimes interrupted each other in their haste to answer questions about the executive branch of government. Mr. English said he worried the first day that because of the exuberance of his youthful group he would not be able to control his class.
"That first day I thought I was going to quit," Mr. English said. "But it got better, and I had the challenge of creating lesson plans and activities.
"The key is keeping them interested."
Nelson Stroman, 14, a student at Carver Vocational Technical School, said he enjoyed the relay races and other competitive games Mr. English devised to teach students about the government. During the races, students were assigned to teams of either the Senate or the House of Representatives.
As Mr. English threw out questions such as "How many members does each have?" each team raced to the board to write up their answers.
Nelson said many of the teachers used innovative lesson plans to keep students attention.
"Their teaching us what we need to do, yet and still they make it fun for us," said Nelson, who is preparing to take the citizenship exam. "I'd rather be working [a summer job] but I need this to graduate."
Sherria Melette said she journeyed from South Carolina to Baltimore to visit her father. Teach Baltimore is for her was a way to escape boredom during the summer while her father works.
"It was my idea because I don't like being in the house," she said. "I like to learn."
The program focuses on small classes with a low student-teacher ratio so that students get more individual attention. The 25 university students recruited this summer are paid a $1,000 stipend each.
Many of the teachers said they see it as a rewarding experience, helping kids who may not have otherwise gotten summer instruction.
"It's great being in a school with kids who need help," said Hopkins student James McPherson, who tutors children with problems in specific subjects. "They really appreciate it."