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WYPR: Summer Learning Loss (Part 2)

BALTIMORE - July 27, 2012 -The amount of knowledge that students forget in the summer is a big concern of school officials as they work to meet mandatory federal achievement standards for students. Research shows that students lose one to two months of their math and reading skills during summer vacation. In Baltimore, officials have made the issue a priority and are partnering with community groups in running summer school programs. In this report, WYPR's Gwendolyn Glenn visits two school sites to see how they are progressing.

Amy Cammarata and students: These dominoes, this one shows how many? Three, this shows, one…

Gwendolyn Glenn: Summer school is in full swing at Dickey Hill Elementary where these rising first graders are reviewing math concepts. The Dickey Hill program is for Baltimore city elementary and middle school students. Some were identified by their schools as needing extra help, others signed up during open enrollment. There are about 15 students per class, receiving instruction in math and reading. Teacher Amy Cammarata.

Cammarata: At the beginning of the program we give them a pre-assessment to see where their knowledge base is in both reading and math, so we use that data and information from that assessment to drive our instruction to see which areas the children have weaknesses in or they need the most help in and which areas we can quickly review. Then we tailor the instruction to meet the needs of each child.

Glenn: This free, six-week, all-day program is one of hundreds going on in Baltimore. District school officials promoted summer programs more aggressively this year in an effort to stem summer learning loss. Cammarata predicts that when these students go back to their regular schools next year, they will not only remember last year's material, but will have a jump start on their new lessons.

Cammarata: Without a doubt, they are going to be leaps and bounds above their classmates. Because the children who aren't going to a program, when they come back in, their pretest at the beginning of the school year have significantly fallen. It takes a lot longer for the children who haven't been in a summer program to get back to where they were the previous school year.

Glenn: Nadia Clarke agrees as she observes a math class of older students. She is the regional field operations director for Bell, Building Education Leaders for Life. Bell is a national after- and summer-school program whose officials are helping the district pay for the Dickey Hill program and two others in the city. Nearly 550 scholars, as the students are called, are enrolled at the three school sites. Clarke says most of their students do not experience summer learning loss.

Nadia Clarke: Typically scholars gain at least three months over the summer from where they started versus scholars who have lost between three and six months. So a BELL scholar starts the school year potentially six months ahead of a scholar who did not participate in a program and we have data to support that.

Glenn: Baltimore officials and their partners emphasize that to get those kinds of results, the summer curriculum has to be top notch and well-rounded. Part of being well-rounded includes providing meals for the students. In addition to this lunch break at Dickey Hill, the students receive breakfast and supper. They also get to play sports, go on field trips and take creative classes, such as art and this dance class. The students say they enjoy the program and its' diversity.

STUDENTS: We get to go outside and have fun and still do learning

Every Friday we go on field trips.

I like about it when we do stuff about reading and math and going in our books looking back and stuff.

Regular school I got confused.

Glenn: At St. Paul's School, these Baltimore city students' summer school program also includes a mix of meals, sports activities, field trips and classroom instruction in math and reading.

Teacher: Erin, yes you may read the third paragraph…

Glenn: This particular program is run by Bridges at St. Paul's School, which has operated summer and after-school programs since 1993. There are 140, mainly low-income students in the program. Bridges director Robert Paymer says their curriculum is in line with the students' regular school lessons. They also identify areas where they need extra help.

Robert Paymer: We get report cards and so what we'll do is we have special support team that will go out and meet with the student and parent to get a sense of what's going on and then make a plan to help them resolve the issue.

Glenn: Most of the Bridges students have been attending this summer school program since they were in the fourth grade. They are only allowed two absences, which those interviewed say is not an issue. Joseph Benson, a rising ninth-grader, is glad to be here because...

Joseph Benson: It's helpings me a great deal because I remembered everything that I was taught in the previous years and I learn things for next year. This program is amazing.

Glenn: Ninth-grader Tammia Johnson has attended the summer program for several years. She says it gives her a jump start on the upcoming school year and helps her with challenging subjects.

Tammia Johnson: I'm not the best in math, so a lot of times, over the summer I take the opportunity to better myself in subjects I've struggled with over the year, like Algebra and slope. I didn't understand that at all during the year.

Glenn: In between classes, Evan Townes says the summer program at St. Paul's is positive for several reasons. It gives him something to do away from the violence in his neighborhood. Plus he recognizes its value in helping him retain the previous year's skills.

Evan Townes: From the school year I've already pretty much forgotten most of it. This camp helps me rebuild my memory.

Glenn: This summer is the last year that Jamil Henry will attend the Bridges program at St. Paul's, after about nine years of being a participant. He's graduating and plans to major in communications or marketing in college. Henry says he earned a perfect score in the writing part of the SAT and credits his summer school classes for it and other academic successes.

Jamil Henry: Well, once you do a summer school program and go back to school, it's like you didn't miss a beat because you've been learning the entire summer. Sometimes when students come back to school, they can't even write for a couple of days because they haven't been writing for the entire summer but when you're in Bridges, you come back and you're still in school mode and it helps you bounce back to the school year.

Glenn: Baltimore city officials and their community partners hope for more successes like Henry's, as they push to expand summer school programs in coming years. The big challenge is finding funds to ensure the programs are top notch with academic and enrichment activities. Both key to attracting students and getting wanted results. I'm Gwendolyn Glenn reporting in Baltimore for 88 1, WYPR.

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