Baltimore winters are typically snowed under ice storms and blisteringly cold winds from the west. I’m not a fan. Instead, winter has become my motivation to plan summer vacations. During these times of fiscal austerity however, I’ve postponed the summer tropical get-away. Even still, I look forward to visiting family and friends spread across the country, taking in the summer sun winding along the harbor, perusing the DC museum circuit, and maybe picking back up on my Portuguese lessons.
Unfortunately, for most low-income children, the reality of summer looks nothing like this. When the school doors close for the summer, too many Baltimore children are set loose to play on the streets unsupervised, or because of safety concerns, are forced to stay indoors, isolated and lonely.
Summer is the perfect time to engage children in community service projects, real-world learning activities, and experiential learning projects; boost academic achievement; cultivate work force-ready skills and career interest; expose children to sports, arts, and new places. Too often as a community, preparation for summer in this regard becomes a last-minute agenda item like filing tax-returns or holiday shopping.
My audacious idea is that while the ground is still frozen, we intentionally capitalize on existing infrastructure and support for after-school programs and work to expand such support to include the critical summer months—when investments in youth often diminish. The National Center for Summer Learning has engaged with City Schools, the Enoch Pratt Library System and City Department of Recreation and Parks to begin this work; but, this effort alone is not enough to guarantee access for 80,000 plus children.
As the evidence of the benefits of summer learning programs have increased, the few public funding streams at the local and school levels have dwindled. To ensure large-scale, high-quality summer programming in the city is available for all children, increased public investment and strategic coordination among public agencies, schools, community program providers and parents are essential.
It’s audacious to be intentional about using summer as leverage for 21st century skill-building, character development and the experiential education our children need to excel. To wait until the snow melts or the spring showers downpour—essentially scrambling at the last minute—will leave many of our children without access to enriching activities resulting in well-documented academic learning loss and exposure to a number of behavioral risks.
Ultimately, increased public financing and city-wide coordination is the only practical way to achieve sustainable, large-scale investment in quality summer programs. This winter, the responsibility is ours to figure out how collaboration can compensate for the lack of adequate funding to ensure access to a wide range of summer learning opportunities for all Baltimore youth.