Pittsburgh Public Schools are fighting an uphill battle. Like districts around the country, Pittsburgh has high concentrations of students living in poverty and an unrelenting achievement gap. In fact, in March, A+ Schools announced that at the current rate, it will take 24 years for Pittsburgh to close the learning gap between its white and African-American students.
But the district is by no means standing by. “Educators and parents in Pittsburgh,” writes Superintendent Linda Lane in a recent post on the Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet, “know that without learning opportunities during the summer months, the persistent achievement gap between higher- and lower-income kids will continue to grow.”
In 2010, the district joined the New Vision for Summer School network (an initiative of the National Summer Learning Association) and launched their Summer Dreamers Academy. PPS students who need extra academic support or who qualify for free or reduced lunch are given preference for this popular, camp-like program that pairs intensive math and language arts instruction with enrichment activities like water polo, judo, art, and video game design. Participants are also fed breakfast, lunch, and a snack.
Academic gains look promising: according to Superintendent Lane, middle school participants have shown greater increases in reading scores than their peers who did not participate in Summer Dreamers. The program has also managed to meet its goal of enrolling those students who have the highest risk of summer learning loss.
Although budget cuts have forced Summer Dreamers to reduce their enrollment in the 2012 program, almost 2,500 students are back at school this week thanks to the commitment of Pittsburgh parents, kids, teachers, funders, and partners—not to mention visionaries like Superintendent Lane.
Charlotte is a summer intern for the Time to Succeed Coalition. She will be a rising junior at Yale University in the fall.