It’s summertime in the city, when the livin’ isn’t always so easy for many Baltimore youth. With limited opportunities to escape the searing heat of city blocks and the monotony of long unstructured days, kids may be drawn to risky behaviors. Fortunately, local nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation has a solution for hundreds of city youth: free full-day summer programs at five sites in East and South Baltimore. With the broad spectrum of engaging and constructive activities offered—sports, visual and performing arts, STEAM, robotics, swimming, and field trips—participating children have no time to say, “I’m bored!”
While each summer program has a particular focus or theme that drives the activities and curriculum, all encompass three main goals: to provide a safe place for youth during summer days, to reduce summer learning loss through hands-on literacy and STEAM lessons, and to keep kids fit and active. Most participants are from low-income households and the summer programs meet the critical need of providing breakfast and lunch each day to children who may not have access to regular healthy meals when school is not in session.
Visit any Living Classrooms site during the summer and you will see kids being kids as they experience that priceless synchronicity of learning and fun. At the UA House at Fayette, you may find students from the Pleasant View Gardens community embracing their curiosity and creativity as they participate in hands-on activities with local vendor FutureMakers, a “mobile maker-space” that challenges youth to think outside the box with design, technology, and art projects. Older youth are most often found in the UA House’s music studio, writing original music, lyrics, and creating videos like this one, while the students who are part of Living Classrooms’ AMP’lified performance group are rehearsing for their upcoming gig at the Maryland Zoo’s ZooBop. There are ample opportunities for students to play a variety of sports in the center’s gym and on the indoor turf field. Nearby, at Living Classrooms’ POWER House in Perkins Homes, one group of students is getting an introduction to financial literacy, creating mock business plans, while others practice coding in the center’s computer lab.
In Patterson Park, giggling middle school kids are splashing into home base on Utz Field. That’s right—splashing. At Living Classrooms’ Park House, kids are staying cool as they play kickball using wading pools as bases. Later, they will be immersed in targeted literacy and interactive STEAM activities, followed by a calming yoga and mindfulness session.
Each distinct program weaves in literacy, math, and science in a way that doesn’t feel like school-day instruction, which is precisely why it is effective.
Over on the East Harbor Campus in Fells Point, the Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students (BUGS) summer program participants are harvesting the gardens they planted and tended during the school year and practicing math skills as they prepare healthy recipes. Across the harbor, Brooklyn and Lakeland-area students enrolled in the BEE SMART (Baltimore Environmental Education Summer Math and Reading Trailblazers) literacy and E-STEM program at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Campus are exploring water quality in the Patapsco with student-built underwater robots and making notes that they will polish into formal writing and present to their peers.
Each distinct program weaves in literacy, math, and science in a way that doesn’t feel like school-day instruction, which is precisely why it is effective. After all, experiential learning is the bedrock upon which all Living Classrooms programs have been built since the organization’s founding in 1985. Research has demonstrated time and again that learning through play and hands-on exploration produces remarkable results, and this is evident in the foundation’s program metrics. For example, BEE SMART has consistently helped students avoid the summer reading slide, and in 2018, an impressive 97 percent of participants increased reading levels on formal assessments from the beginning to the end of summer.
But the kids aren’t paying attention to those numbers. They are too busy focusing on fun activities, making friends, and experiencing new opportunities that may inspire future plans for college and career, when all the while, they just might be “learning by doing.” For a kid in summertime, that’s an unbeatable combination.
Living Classrooms Foundation’s mission is to strengthen communities and inspire people to reach their potential through hands-on education, job training, and health and wellness programming, using urban, natural, and maritime resources as “living classrooms.” All of the Foundation’s summer programs are free to the community, and they rely on critical fundraising throughout the year to make them possible. The organization’s biggest annual fundraising event is Maritime Magic, known locally as the Best Annual Benefit on the Baltimore Waterfront. Scheduled for Friday, September 27, 2019, this mix-and-mingle event will feature live music from renowned Njam band, Galactic and food and drink from over 80 of Baltimore’s best restaurants and caterers. Please visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets.