Summer Arts & Learning Academy

Closing Out Summer: 1,100 Students Display Their Talents

Baltimore City School students closed out a summer of creativity and arts-integrated education with performances and visual art exhibitions at Young Audiences Summer Arts and Learning Academy. The academy’s culmination events were an opportunity for students to showcase their art forms and what they learned to family and friends. 

The Summer Arts and Learning Academy took place over five weeks, giving students from Title 1 schools in Baltimore City a free, daily opportunity to explore art forms with teaching artists while improving literacy and math using hands-on, arts-integrated learning techniques. They wrote songs to memorize grammar rules, learned dances to recall fractions, and immersed themselves in a multitude of art forms, making literacy and math concepts stick. The third annual academy had children and staff laughing, learning, and inspired.

One mathematics class took the stage to perform one of the songs they used during Summer Arts and Learning Academy to improve their math skills.

This kind of summer engagement with the arts is proven to have a significant impact on kids’ education. In Summer Arts and Learning Academy, classroom teachers and teaching artists work together to continue to build momentum while stemming summer learning loss, or the loss of academic knowledge over the summer months. According to a study last year by Baltimore City Schools, students in 3rd-5th grade attending the Summer Arts and Learning Academy avoided summer learning loss, and in many cases, gained ground on their national peers in literacy and math.

Visual art lined the hallways and ceramics filled the lobby of Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle School.


The culmination events, held at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle, Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle, James Mosher Elementary, and Gardenville Elementary, put students on stage to showcase the art they created at the academy for parents, teachers, friends and family. Here is some of what we saw.

Two students from YA roster artist Femi theDrifish‘s spoken word poetry class read aloud their own inspiring words. They expressed the challenges caused by bullying through their writing, moving the audience with their heartfelt performance.

A larger group of students performed African dance on stage as their teacher, YA roster artist Ssuuna, led an accompanying rhythm section. A dance circle broke out at the end as students entered and showed the audience their skills. Cheers, laughs and applause filled the auditorium.

Mr. Ssuuna’s class performing a dance they learned during Summer Arts and Learning Academy from Uganda.

Music, poetry, and theater graced the stage as another group performed a chapter from a short story they read during the Academy. Kids performed as trolls and goats while their teacher, YA roster artist Drew Anderson narrated. Positive energy filled the room.

Children in Mr. Drew’s class expertly brought ‘Three Billy Goats Gruff’ to life on stage.

And that’s only a taste of the dozens of performances that took place at culmination events around the city. Watching students light up and enjoy learning with the infusion of arts experiences is remarkable. We can’t wait for next summer.

You can view images from all four of our summer sites by visiting our Flickr page. More information about Summer Arts and Learning Academy can be found on our website.

Summer Arts Programming Improves Academic Performance

Young Audiences Summer Arts Programming Improves Academic Performance

Baltimore students in Young Audiences Summer & Learning Arts Academy Outperform Peers

Baltimore City Public Schools students who participated in a new arts-related summer academic program from Young Audiences avoided summer learning loss and, in many cases, gained ground on their national peers in standardized testing, according to evaluations released Tuesday. The new findings showed potentially groundbreaking progress in tackling summer learning loss, a chronic challenge facing public schools.

The results, confirmed in two separate studies involving nearly 800 students, are significant because summer learning loss – particularly among students at or below poverty level – is among the most difficult challenges facing the Baltimore school district and other high-poverty schools across the country. During summer, students typically fall below where they ended the previous grade, setting them back as they start a new school year. In fact, a 2013 National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) survey of 500 teachers found that 66 percent reported the need to spend three to four weeks re-teaching students course material at the beginning of the year. Another 24% reported the need to spend five to six weeks doing the same.

“City Schools has enjoyed a great partnership with Young Audiences, not only during the school year but also the past two summers,” said Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools). “During the summer, Young Audiences reinforces key math and reading concepts through the arts and creative activities – and we’re pleased with the results we’ve seen. When students participate in summer learning programs that help them move ahead or reduce learning loss, they start the school year off stronger.”

The Young Audiences Summer Arts & Learning Academy (SALA), run by the Baltimore-based arts-in-education nonprofit Young Audiences of Maryland in partnership with City Schools, was free for students and held at four sites across the city: Gardenville Elementary, Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle, William Pinderhughes Elementary, and Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle. Eighty-eight percent of the participating students were from high-poverty Title I schools.

“These results were a pleasant surprise given that we generally expect that students will lose ground over the summer,” commented Dr. Marc L. Stein, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, who conducted a separate program evaluation for Young Audiences which looked at participating students’ academic skill and social-emotional development. “The Young Audiences summer program combines many of the best practices of summer learning programs and appears to be a promising model. These findings deserve to be investigated more rigorously to find out how and for whom the program appears to be working.”

“This is not your typical summer school program,” said Stacie Evans, Executive Director of Young Audiences. “We taught literacy and math through the arts every day and instruction was collaboratively taught by teaching artists and teachers specifically trained in arts-integration methods. If you walked into one of our classrooms, you might have seen students using hip hop music to help solve word problems in math, or creating dances to summarize and sequence main events in a story.”

The Baltimore City Public Schools evaluation found:

  • For math, statistically significant results showed that students in grades 3-5 who regularly attended (defined as attending at least 75% of the program) the SALA improved 1.8% percentile points in national student rankings on i-Ready standardized testing from the spring of 2016 to the fall of that year. That compares to a decrease of 2.8% percentile points for city schools students who did not attend any summer programming.
  • In reading, SALA students in grades 3-5 with regular attendance fell only .8% percentile points while students who did not attend any summer programming fell 2.1 percentile points upon returning to school in the fall.
  • Results for all grade 3-5 students regardless of attendance rate showed SALA attendees falling just .3% percentile points in math and .7% in reading. These were significantly smaller losses than students with no summer programming (down 2.8% in math, down 2.1% lost in reading).
  • In literacy, only 3% of the students in grades K-2 attending SALA did not meet their benchmark goal (the empirically derived target score that represents adequate reading progess1) on the standardized DIBELS assessment in the fall after returning to school compared to 8.1% of students not attending any summer programming not meeting the benchmark.

Young Audiences external program evaluation found:

  • 79% of students who attended at least 75% of the program and who took pre- and post-tests had a positive change from the first to the last week of the program on a curriculum based measure of mathematics.
  • Approximately 60% of students who attended at least 75% of the program and who took pre- and post-test writing prompts showed positive change in their structure and content of their writing.
  • 71% of students who attended 75% of the program and were administered pre- and post-assessments showed growth in at least one out of three social emotional competency areas over the course of the program. The social emotional competencies studied were relationship skills, self-awareness, and goal directed.

“The arts offer an extraordinary opportunity, particularly during the summer, to reignite the joy of learning and to set young people on the right course to start the school year strong. These impressive results from Young Audiences mirror findings of the landmark Wallace Foundation study showing that elementary school students with high levels of attendance in high-quality, voluntary summer learning programs can experience benefits in math and reading,” commented Matthew Boulay PhD, National Summer Learning Association founder and interim CEO.

Eric Harrell, father of 9 year-old Academy participant, Aria Harrell, said “Before this academy, I could tell that my daughter was struggling in math. By using the arts she was able to learn math in a different way-a way that worked for her. She has so much more confidence in her math class.”

Young Audiences' Sun

“Dibels Next Benchmark Goals and Composite Score, “ Dynamic Measurement Group, Inc. (December 1, 2010). https://dibels.uoregon.edu/docs/DIBELSNextFormerBenchmarkGoals.pdf

Links to complete City Schools and Young Audiences Evaluations:

YAMD evaluation

City Schools evaluation

Young Audiences’ Summer Arts & Learning Academy is funded by Baltimore City Public Schools, The Abell Foundation, The Family League of Baltimore with the support of the Mayor and the City Council of Baltimore, The Alvin and Fanny B. Thalheimer Foundation and individual contributions to Young Audiences. All participants are students at a Title I Baltimore City Public School.

YA’s Expanded Summer Arts and Learning Academy Kicks Off Today!

This morning, we kicked off our expanded Summer Arts and Learning Academy – a free, five week program immersing 900 City students in a variety of art forms taught by 36 locally-based professional artists. The full-day program welcomes students grades K-5, encouraging imagination, creation and expression through the arts, such as painting, songwriting, spoken word poetry, dance, piano, singing, visual art, sound production, playwriting, fiber art, and filmmaking.

Our kickoff this morning was a blast – welcoming students and their parents to the Academy’s four sites with high-energy performances, live music, and vibrant interactive art demonstrations – giving them a preview of the truly unique and empowering experiences to come throughout the next five weeks.

Sankofa and Steve Cyphers kick off the Summer Arts and Learning Academy at Fort Worthington Elementary School.
Sankofa with YA roster artist and percussionist Steve Cyphers (far right) kicking off the Summer Arts and Learning Academy at Fort Worthington Elementary School.

Due to last year’s success; with academic gains by students drawing from 93 different city schools—the district asked us to expand the Academy to four sites: Thomas Jefferson Elementary, William Pinderhughes Elementary, Gardenville Elementary and Fort Worthington Elementary.

Working with kids as they discover passions, refine creative processes and integrate arts in their everyday learning is an inspirational experience we and our Teaching Artists look forward to every year. We spoke with a few participating Teaching Artists about their plans and why the Summer Arts Academy is such a great opportunity for students and artists:

Scott Paynter, reggae singer:

I wanted to teach at this year’s Summer Arts and Learning Academy to gain more experience working with Baltimore’s greatest resource…it’s children. My art form helps students express themselves through lyrics, it introduces them to cultures and people they’ve never encountered before, and it brings life to a classroom environment. Music is like a force of nature. It’s everywhere you are if you pay attention.”

Bridget Cavaiola, Baltimore Improv Group:

This is such a unique experience to provide our students with collaborative and engaging arts experiences that they may not get to during the school year. The mood and energy are contagious as you get to watch the students engage themselves in something in which they have passion.”

Alden Phelps, musician:

My focus has always been on playing with words and the joy of language. Language is the foundation of how we communicate and function as human beings. Students who practice manipulating language, expanding their vocabulary, using rhymes, and counting syllables will better succeed in their regular academic work. Creative thinking opens up new pathways in our brains. There’s also a wonderful freedom when a student can express an idea creatively. They synthesize their academic knowledge with skill in the arts, such as using color or figurative language, and the result is far more engaging to them.”

YA roster artist and professional dancer Valerie Branch (left) leading the kickoff at William Pinderhughes Elementary.

pinderhughes5 pinderhughes6pinderhughes1

Students will imagine, create and express themselves through the arts, with a chance to concentrate on two art forms. The students even show-off their talents at Artscape, at pop-up performances in mobile art galleries around the city and at the August 5 final culminating event. We can’t wait to see the students perform!

After this morning’s successful kick-off event, led by teaching artists Valerie Branch and Sean Roberts, at William Pinderhughes Elementary, one parent said:

“I am just so excited to get to see my child perform soon. Seeing what the [teachers and artists] did just now, I know they are in trusted hands. It made me look at my daughter and think yes! This is going to be different, we are so excited! She LOVES art! I can’t wait for the workshops too!”

Young Audiences’ Summer Arts and Learning Academy is funded by Baltimore City Public Schools, The Abell Foundation, The Family League of Baltimore with the support of the Mayor and the City Council of Baltimore, The Alvin and Fanny B. Thalheimer Foundation and individual contributions to Young Audiences. All participants are students at a Title I Baltimore City Public School.

Learn more about the Summer Arts and Learning Academy.