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Education leaders kick off Summer Learning Day

The Baltimore Sun
National Summer Learning Day promotes programs in Baltimore

Local and national education leaders kicked off National Summer Learning Day on Friday with a discussion about Baltimore's summer education programs and avoiding learning loss.

Low-income students fall behind every summer in reading and math skills, according to the National Summer Learning Association, leaving them up to three years behind their peers by the time they're in fifth grade. This achievement gap is particularly relevant in Baltimore, said Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the NSLA, where city data show that 84 percent of students are considered "low-income."

"What we're talking about is disrupting poverty," Pitcock said of the summer programs.

This year, Baltimore summer programs will provide opportunities for 23,000 students, an increase of about 1,000 from two years ago, according to Julie K. Baez, senior director of initiatives at the Family League of Baltimore. The programs, including the teen employment initiative YouthWorks, will serve over 25 percent of the city's children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

"Our goal is much bigger than that," Baez said.

Pitcock said leaders of the NSLA wanted to hold the kickoff event in Baltimore this year in light of recent unrest.

"The rallying cry was really a call for opportunity," she said.

Pitcock said that through promoting jobs, mentoring and other opportunities for youths, Baltimore's young people will see an "alternative to joining a gang, an alternative to a life of crime."

Erin Hodge Williams, executive director of the nonprofit Higher Achievement Baltimore, said there is an "exposure gap" between low-income students and their classmates. She said that many low-income students initially have limited aspirations, but she sees a change once they interact with people in different careers in her program.

"All of a sudden, when you ask them what they want to be, they say 'engineer,'" she said. "We establish among young people that it is cool to be smart."

Karl L. Alexander, a professor of sociology at the Johns Hopkins University, said summer programs can be one way for Baltimore's students to shape their goals.

"Young people have to have a sense that there is a better future ahead of them," he said. "You tell them to work hard in school, but then what's the next step? If there's nothing waiting for them, it's hard to keep them motivated and engaged."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently announced an additional $4.2 million for after-school and summer programs. At the kick-off event Friday, Deputy Mayor Dawn Kirstaetter said the city is continually committed to enriching time spent outside of classrooms.

"This cannot be the only time we invest in summer and out-of-school time learning," Kirstaetter said.

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