Summer a time for learning


While summer vacation may nourish the soul, it can starve the mind.

That was the theme yesterday at Baltimore's Brehms Lane Elementary School, where students celebrated the first national summer learning day -- an effort to raise public awareness about the importance of summer programs that extend and build on academic gains made during the school year.

"The needs of young people don't take a vacation -- whether looking at academic needs or developmental needs," said Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Center for Summer Learning at the Johns Hopkins University.

Led by city and school officials, children promised yesterday to practice reading and math, a commitment that along with summer learning programs helps counter the achievement loss that results from summer days spent out of school.

According to Hopkins research, students lose an average of more than two months of grade-level equivalency in math each summer.

Reading registers an even greater and disproportionate change: Middle-income children make gains in reading over the summer, while low-income students lose more than two months of achievement.

As a result of summer learning differences, children of low-income families are two years behind their middle-income peers by the end of fifth grade.

While summer school has traditionally been for remedial students, the summer learning center promotes programs that offer enrichment.

Such programs, the center says, can make a significant difference in the statistics.

Brehms Lane, in Belair-Edison, hosts two programs for students between kindergarten and third grade.

No Mind Left Behind, an independent program with a nominal fee, provides opportunities to read with guided assistance, math and drama activities, sports and field trips.

Teach Baltimore, financed by about 60 organizations that contribute to the summer learning center, focuses on academics. It parallels the school day with lessons in reading, math, social studies and science.

Teach Baltimore, designed and initiated by the center, is a six-week program consisting of about 60 students at each of its five Baltimore locations.

Class sizes of about 20 students enable teachers to cater to an individual student's needs, said Edward Cozzolino, Brehms Lane principal.

Curriculums are structured around weekly themes such as zoo animals, marine life and dinosaurs, and culminate each week in field trips to places such as the city zoo, the National Aquarium and the Museum of Natural History in Washington.

"[Programs] assist in fulfilling the vision that Brehms Lane becomes the hub of community that the community truly needs and students will benefit from," Cozzolino said.

The center's strategic plan envisions the Teach Baltimore program as a model for other cities.

The center has played a key role in the national trend toward increased summer learning, Fairchild said. Twelve states held similar celebrations for summer learning yesterday.

Children's well-being in summer goes beyond education, Fairchild said.

The programs provide resources for parents, such as child care and healthy meals.

One in five of students who qualify for federally subsidized breakfast and lunch during the school year participate in summer learning programs.

Teach Baltimore wants the same students to return each summer to develop continuity and attain long-term benefits.

During yesterday's event, the children looked as if they were having fun learning.

Defying the tradition of disgruntled summer school students, Brehms Lane students were enthusiastic.

They cheered when they heard that visiting adults would read aloud to their classes, and each child proudly clenched a new book to take home.

Brittany Harris, a Teach Baltimore first-grader, put it this way: "I like school because it is fun, and they make you play fun games."

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