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Betsy Nelson: Summer learning helps to build vital skills

For many of us, summer vacation is synonymous with summer camp or afternoons spent poolside. However, the summer months should also be a time for children to build upon the academic skills they have gained during the school year.

According to the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association, all students experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Indeed, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading — a 10-year effort by foundations to address the developmental and academic targets that children need to reach to be successful, with a focus on third-grade reading proficiency — has identified summer learning loss as one of the major obstacles to student achievement.

Summer learning loss is more keenly felt by low-income students, who often do not get to participate in the educational and enrichment activities available in summer to higher-income students. Research shows that unequal summer learning opportunities play a key role in the achievement gap, childhood obesity and other important indicators.

Closing the achievement gap

A 2007 Johns Hopkins University study attributed two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading between the low- and middle-income children to unequal summer learning opportunities in the elementary school years.

It’s exciting to imagine how much better all students would do during the school year if the achievement gap were significantly reduced through enriching summer experiences.

Funders, policymakers, and community leaders can help schools and local organizations address summer learning loss by supporting strong programs that engage more children in summer learning opportunities.

In place of the traditional remedial model of summer school, innovative summer learning programs blend core academic learning with hands-on activities, arts, sports and technology.

Summer reading programs can also help reduce summer learning loss. Local efforts such as the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Summer Reading program are designed to make reading an enjoyable and satisfying experience.

Every summer, more than 16,000 children and teens register for this incentive- and theme-based reading program, and more than 30,000 participate in the free branch-based activities and performances. The program is designed to help children develop a love of reading, promote family reading and help students continue to learn over the summer.

Investing in literacy

The Verizon Foundation, along with others, awarded the Enoch Pratt Free Library a grant to fund these free activities.

William R. Roberts, Verizon’s president in Maryland and Washington, D.C., states, “In today’s competitive global environment, where education and strong literacy skills are essential to the future of young people, learning cannot end with the school year.

“That is why Verizon invests in programs that engage students inside and outside the classroom to give them the competitive advantage they need. Pratt’s Summer Reading program helps to better prepare students for both the new school year and a lifelong pursuit of reading and learning.”

Summer is a critical time for students to maintain and, ideally, build upon the skills that they have gained during the school year. Support for fun and enriching summer activities can positively impact local children — not just during the summer, but for the upcoming school year as well.

Betsy Nelson, president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or bnelson@abagrantmakers.org