Education experts have long advocated for parents to keep their kids engaged in learning over the summer – when skills picked up during the school year can get rusty.

That "summer slide" can be especially tough on students from families who can't afford quality summer programs. To combat this loss, state Sen. Vincent Hughes has organized the Save Our Skills summer reading program – a free, four week summer literacy program where students receive a free breakfast and lunch while sharpening their reading skills with certified teachers.

Program sponsors include the Philadelphia Eagles, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Children's Literacy Group, Treehouse Books, and the Philadelphia School District.

"Research shows that children fall behind during the summer months when they're not engaged. So programs like this are part of the solution," said Raymond Jackson, a 4th grade literacy in the program who usually teaches 7th grade reading at Birney Preparatory Academy Charter School.

"If we constantly push students to push themselves, you'll see a big difference the upcoming school year," he said.

Save Our Skills teachers are counted as volunteers, but receive a $1,000 stipend after completing the four week program.

In total, the program cost roughly $20,000, which Hughes raised from private donors to fund teacher stipends and buy supplies.

Nine-year-old Omari Diaz, who just finished 3rd grade at Martha Washington elementary in West Philadelphia, loves that the program keeps him busy over the summer.

"We read a lot," Diaz said. "We get to draw and we get to listen to cool stories." If not for the program, he says he'd be "sitting at home being bored."

Kalima Owens, 9, who attends Cassidy Elementary in Overbrook, echoed that sentiment. She says the program is a lot more fun than her year-round coursework – less pressure, smaller classes, more one-on-one interaction.

"It's going to help me a lot because sometimes," Owens said, "I stumble over some words when I'm reading, and I need help with that."

Nefertiti White, who usually teaches at Joseph Pennell Elementary in Olney, says summer slide doesn't just pertain to students.

"We do have a summer slide as well, we want to watch TV, want to relax, but I figured this is a way to keep practicing the interaction with students and plus you get to see what other kids are doing from other areas."

Save Our Skills – which begins its second week today– runs Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 12 pm at West Philly High, Ethel Allen Elementary in Strawberry Mansion and Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough.

The program is enrolling to students who are entering grades 1-5 and is free to students from all economic backgrounds.

Parents can either register children on site, online, or by phone at 215-879-7777. A little less than half of the program's 300 spots remain available.

Tiffany A. Wilson, Hughes' director of constituent services hopes families will apply the lessons of this program year round.

"We have to constantly remind parents and our young people that learning isn't just during the day from 9-3 when they're in school," she said. "They need to be learning at home. They need to be reading at home, in the evening, on the weekends."