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Baltimore VISTAs Combat the Summer Slump

by Laura Kelly

One of the major factors that contribute to children falling behind in reading is the learning loss that occurs during summer break. Low-income students, in particular, lose two to three months in reading achievement over the summer.

This summer, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has teamed with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, numerous city agencies, city schools, and nonprofit organizations for Super Summer, a full-time fun and engaging summer program for nearly 1,500 children in Baltimore's most challenged neighborhoods.

Summer Associates on the Case

Fifty VISTA Summer Associates have been assigned to 10 low-income school sites for Super Summer, which combines traditional summer camp activities with enriching learning experiences that help first through third graders prepare to return to school in the fall.

Activities include a summer reading academy, and recreation and play activities that promote fitness, build positive social interaction skills, and provide a fun outlet for youthful energy. The children also get to enjoy healthy meals every day and weekly field trips.

This is the first full-day summer-long effort to reverse the “Summer Slide,” which low-income children experience without reading activities, and the “Summer Slump,” the tendency toward childhood obesity when children don't have access to healthy meals and safe places to play in the summer.

Lessons for the Teachers

Not only have the children benefitted from the opportunities to read and play throughout the summer, but 50 young Baltimore residents have been introduced to the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteerism environment and are serving -- right here, right now -- in their community.

And while the VISTAs are helping transform the lives of little kids, they are learning some lessons, too.

“The kids and the project are amazing. Now that I have worked with the kids, I think I may go into teaching after college,” said Breché Wells, a biochemistry major who leads the PlayWorks component of the program at Liberty Elementary School as a Summer VISTA.

Another VISTA Summer Associate, Brian Simpson, is actually homeless and has been on his own since age 15. He leaves a transitional housing facility every morning to lead kids in a day of activities that turn playtime into a tool to support learning.

Observers can see that the children look up to Simpson as the proud PlayWorks manager guides them through their day. Simpson is using this summer to give back to the community before he begins studies at Coppin State University this fall to pursue a degree in history. Brian sees his summer service as an opportunity to enrich Baltimore children and help them gain the tools he didn't have, so they can make good choices for a brighter future.

To learn more about the Baltimore program, visit the Super Summer website.

Laura Kelly is a VISTA Leader in the Office of the Mayor in Baltimore.

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