In an innovative program designed to stem the loss of learning that takes place during the summer for many students, Cincinnati Public Schools offered a Fifth Quarter, targeting grades K-7 at thirteen* schools. The voluntary program included enrichment opportunities intended to close the achievement gap between low-income and more economically advantaged students. A recent Johns Hopkins University study found that 65 percent of the achievement gap between poor and more advantaged ninth-graders is due to unequal summer learning experiences during elementary school years. By the fifth grade, low-income children can be 2-1/2 years behind their middle and upper-income peers.
Seizing the opportunity to provide children with valuable environmental education and healthy outdoor activities, Leave No Child Inside-Greater Cincinnati partnered with Cincinnati Public Schools and CincyAfterSchool (overseen by the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati) to establish the EarthSmart Institute. With assistance from Greater Cincinnati Environmental Educators and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, LNCIgc provided the schools with a menu of over sixty school outreach programs and more than thirty-five field trip opportunities, many of which were offered free of charge. In an effort to encourage problem-solving, creativity and outdoor physical activity, LNCIgc also helped each school to identify a “nearby nature” location for the students to visit. There, students completed a series of self-directed activities, using an EarthSmart Institute Passport as a roadmap to discovering “nature in the neighborhood” and learning how human behavior impacts the environment. Fifth Quarter concluded on Friday, June 26, with grades four through seven attending the Paddlefest Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo. EarthSmart Institute “graduates” were presented with a certificate signed by Superintendent Mary Ronan and Mayor Mark Mallory, and participating schools received recognition from Governor Ted Strickland.
Planning for the EarthSmart Institute, the Passport and graduation certificates were all donated to Cincinnati Public Schools. Many community organizations deserve recognition for their support of Fifth Quarter, but special recognition is due to the Fifth Quarter Planning Team: The Cincinnati Park Board, the Foundation for Ohio River Education (formerly ORSANCO), ALLY, Dater Montessori Nature Center, CincyAfterSchool and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Special thanks also to the Paddlefest Kids Outdoor Adventure Expo planning team: Hamilton County Park District, Ohio River Way, Inc. and the Paddlefest Steering Committee. All of these groups volunteered many hours of staff time to support this important and innovative initiative. We would also like to thank Greater Cincinnati Water Works for donating the cost of printing the EarthSmart Institute Passport.
*Sixteen schools were originally targeted for this program, but three of them are now in redesign and were removed from Fifth Quarter.