A super summer camp for boosting readers; State's question: How much is it worth to help Baltimore's struggling students make summer gains?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

HOW ARE you spending your summer vacation? In March, the question seems ridiculously premature. Yet within the next few weeks the Maryland legislature will decide whether hundreds of struggling Baltimore students will spend next summer getting the reading help they need to bolster their lagging reading skills.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed spending $1 million in state funds to send an extra 1,000 low-performing Baltimore students to SuperKids Camp. This eight-week program combines intensive reading instruction with the swimming, crafts classes and zoo trips found at more traditional camps.

State financial help is crucial. Without it, enrollment in SuperKids Camp will be limited to the 1,500 spots funded by private groups through the nonprofit Parks & People Foundation. Yet camp organizer Sally Michel estimates almost 5,000 Baltimore third-graders need the intensive reading help the program provides.

But state support isn't guaranteed. The governor's funding proposal is part of a bloated budget request that exceeds the legislature's affordability limits by $125 million.

In deciding funding, the legislature must consider two important points: The camp targets students at a critical time -- the summer before third grade. Studies show that students who can't read by age 9 are more likely to continue struggling in school.

What's more, SuperKids Camp works. Follow-up studies show a majority of former campers increased their reading skills -- and 38 percent exceeded the two-month gains expected from an eight-week program.

State legislators face tough budget choices in coming weeks. But in deciding whether to spend $1 million to help fund SuperKids Camp, lawmakers should answer another question: What happens to the city's struggling readers without the intensive instruction this valuable program provides?

Pub Date: 3/08/99

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