There are more than 600 kids in Baltimore this summer who are proving there’s a sustainable way to solve a national problem—reducing the educational disparities between rich and poor children.
These children have embraced the audacious idea that you can’t take a three-month break from learning in the summer. No matter how much is accomplished through other school reforms, the traditional school calendar sorely underutilizes summer and does a real disservice to low-income kids in particular, who aren’t likely to have access to summer enrichment activities like camp and vacation travel.
Research shows that without high-quality summer learning experiences, most students fall more than two months behind in math, and low-income children fall behind two to three months in reading.
We would expect an athlete’s or a musician’s performance to suffer if they didn’t practice. The same is true for our nation’s young people.
My organization—Building Educated Leaders for Life or BELL—launched its first summer learning partnership with the city’s school system in 2007. BELL is a non-profit organization established in 1992 that’s developed an award-winning summer learning model that’s helping lower-income kids not only avoid “summer learning loss,” but leap ahead toward academic parity.
Our scholars spend the morning with certified teachers and trained teacher assistants learning math and literacy. After lunch, scholars rotate through a series of enrichment courses with themes including science and technology, creative arts and health and exercise.
Last summer, BELL’s summer program in Baltimore served 564 scholars at five sites. At the summer’s start, 76% of the scholars were performing below grade level in reading and 89% were performing below grade level in math. By the end of the five-week program, scholars had gained 9.5 months of grade-equivalent skills in literacy and 11 months in math.
This summer, thanks to our partnership with Baltimore City Schools and generous local and national donors, enrollment is up to 660 scholars. I’m confident the youth of Baltimore once again will demonstrate what can happen around the country when we help kids reach their potential during the summer.