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Baltimore’s expanded summer learning program a success

1/13/2017, 6 a.m.
For more than a decade, Building Education Leaders for Life (BELL), a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the achievement ...
Last summer, 1,426 K-Grade Five students, and 453 sixth to eighth graders from 14 Title I schools participated in the free summer program in Baltimore, which operated six and a half hours a day, five days a week for five weeks. Studies have shown that by the end of eighth grade, summer learning loss can account for 66 percent of the achievement gap between low and high-income students.

— For more than a decade, Building Education Leaders for Life (BELL), a national non- profit organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap in underserved communities, has partnered with City Schools to deliver this expanded summer and after-school program.

Participating scholars in grades K-5 gained two months in reading skills and one month in math skills in just five weeks of summer work, the equivalent of 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of a school year, per the results of computer-adaptive assessments.

According to Damon Johnson, executive director of Maryland’s (BELL), the expansion reflects Baltimore City Public Schools’ decision to double the size of the elementary school program, while helping middle school students stay on track for grade-level success and high school graduation.

Last summer, 1,426 K-Grade five students, and 453 sixth to eighth graders from 14 Title I schools participated in the free summer program.

Middle school scholars gained one month in reading skills and three months in math. In a survey, 96 percent of participating elementary school teachers reported an increase in scholars’ self-confidence, while 96 percent of parents reported increased involvement in their child’s education.

Also, 90 percent of middle-school teachers reported that BELL helped develop their professional skills, while 91 percent of parents reported an improved ability from scholars to overcome challenges.

During the summer months, many at-risk children lack quality learning experiences, often losing academic skills over the two month school break, which accumulates year after year.

Studies have shown that by the end of eighth grade, summer learning loss can account for 66 percent of the achievement gap between low and high-income students, according to a news release.

Since 2010, BELL has operated as the district’s mandatory summer program for middle school students at risk of being retained at grade-level.

The Baltimore elementary school program was launched in 2015 with the support of the Norman R. Rales & Ruth Rales Foundation.

“Our Baltimore programs are demonstrating that BELL’s academic and enrichment summer learning model can be highly successful even when scaled up,” Johnson said. “Working closely with our partners in Baltimore City Public Schools, we hope to continue to make up for lost academic ground during the summer and improve the life trajectories of our scholars.”

The summer program operated six and a half hours a day, five days a week for five weeks at 11 elementary school sites and three middle schools.

BELL programs serve scholars who would benefit the most from personalized summer learning opportunities and social and emotional skill development.

They blend small-group instruction in reading and math with hands-on enrichment courses, activities and field trips.

“Scholars are tested at the beginning and end of the program with advanced, computer-adaptive STAR Assessments, built for measuring scholars’ growth in skills needed to succeed during the school year,” Johnson said.

For more information about the program, visit: www.experiencebell.org.