What if summer school felt less like a requirement and more like camp? What if, during the summer months, kids became better readers but also got a chance to relax and play? What if teachers didn’t need to spend the month of September playing catch-up to combat summer learning loss?
Programs like Baltimore’s Read to Succeed-Plus!, profiled in USA Today the other day, are tackling some lofty educational goals. The camp offers six weeks of academic support and enrichment activities to public elementary school students who need extra reading support. The day starts with hands-on activities to build fiction and non-fiction reading skills and comprehension. In the afternoon, the enrichment activities begin: swimming, sailing, and performing arts just to name a few.
As far as school districts go, Baltimore City Public Schools is a glowing example of the work staff and administrators are doing to combat “summer slide,” or the months of academic progress—two to three, by some estimates—that can be lost during summer vacation. It’s a problem that especially plagues students in low-income areas, who may not be doing as much reading during the summer or participating in cultural enrichment activities with their families.
Baltimore City Super Summer, Baltimore’s slate of summer programs, is part of a massive effort to close the district’s achievement gap. During the 2003-2004 school year, fewer than 50 percent of African American male students were graduating from high school in Baltimore. Given that the district has a large majority of African American students, this statistic is particularly shocking. But in 2009-2010, two out of three African American male students graduated.
We know that low test scores as early as the elementary years have some correlation to the high school dropout rate, and even to the adult incarceration rate, so it’s easy to see the value of programs like Read to Succeed. If a teacher can get struggling third-grade readers back on track during the summer, he or she has eliminated a major risk factor in their academic futures.
It’s hard to wrap your head around how six weeks of summer school can have such a great impact on students’ lives, but Baltimore has been seeing the results for years. And the district hasn’t done it alone: they benefit from proximity to the National Summer Learning Association, and they have a long list of organizational partners. But most of all, they have cultivated a groups of dedicated parents, teachers, and students who are committed to continuous learning, to brighter academic futures. Baltimore is making an ideal balance of fun and learning possible for students who would otherwise miss out on such summer enrichment, and that’s something that every school district should strive for.
Charlotte is a summer intern for the Time to Succeed Coalition. She will be a rising junior at Yale University in the fall.