School’s out. For some, this means days at the pool, campfires, or family road trips. But for many children in our communities, the end of the school year means losing access to things that are crucial for their growth and development: books, mentors, meaningful enrichment, or even healthy food.

Studies show that low-income kids in particular lack these resources during the summer months. These are often the same children who typically lag behind their upper-income peers in academic achievement, especially in reading.

These deficiencies are serious and can have long-term consequences. According to the National Summer Learning Association and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, four out of every five low-income students fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade, making them four times more likely to drop out of high school. Today is National Summer Learning Day, which aims to highlight the importance of high-quality summer learning programs.

Here in Pittsburgh, we’re intervening by joining these initiatives and with other national organizations. We want to make sure our city has broad commitment to helping all of our students access learning opportunities year round. This means giving kids the chance to participate in intellectually ambitious and hands-on enrichment activities during the summer in our city’s schools, libraries, museums, and community centers. And it means using digital badges to help kids show what they know. 

Badges are a way to capture, promote, and transfer all of the learning that occurs within a broader community context—in-school, out-of-school, and online.

We call our initiative Pittsburgh City of Learning. We’re joining Chicago; Columbus; Dallas; Los Angeles; and Washington, D.C., in this effort to make our whole city a “campus” for our young people and to take advantage of all our city has to offer in the summer.

Participating programs will offer youth the opportunity to earn digital badges, a new way for students to display the skills and competencies they develop through activities and achievements to teachers, college admissions officers, or future employers. Badges are a way to capture, promote, and transfer all of the learning that occurs within a broader community context—in-school, out-of-school, and online.

This broad, cross-sector, public-private partnership brings together government agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to provide more than 3,000 youth with better access to academic and hands-on learning opportunities, many of which are free. We emphasize media making as well as digital, maker, and STEAM learning.  

For example:

    • Through the i5 High Def Summer Smash Jam, a program of the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project and Carnegie Science Center, middle and high school students will participate in digital video workshops to create science-oriented video projects.
    • At branches of the Carnegie Library teens can produce original music, make films, or participate in technology workshops through The Labs @ CLP.
    • Young Naturalists, a summer learning program of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, will give high school students opportunities to get outdoors and gain unique work and leadership experience through environmental stewardship.
    • Reading Warriors, a summer learning program of the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, provides high school reading mentors to 100 elementary school children, teaching them that reading isn’t just a skill to learn but a powerful way of interacting with the world.
    • Through Art in Action, part of Pittsburgh Public School’s Summer Dreamers Academy, students will learn how to use music, art, drama, dance, and media to ignite change in their school and community.

Programming began this week and will culminate in a citywide Maker Party free learning event, in August.

Through partner organizations in the Pittsburgh Kids+Creativity Network, learning experiences will take youth on new paths of discovery; encourage them to explore the city’s rich resources; and help them find out what they can learn, make, do, and ultimately become.