Students’ hard work during the school year can unfortunately be diminished by summertime learning loss. Reportedly, during the summer months, children who lack quality learning experiences tend to lose academic skills over the school break – sometimes equating to as much as two months of a grade level each summer accumulating year after year. Studies have shown that by the end of eighth grade, summer learning loss can account for 66 percent of the achievement gap between low- and high-income students. Summer learning is one of the most effective ways to improve student achievement. This is why the South Sound YMCA recently launched the Power Scholars Academy.
Kacey Kimmel, Child Development Program Director at the South Sound YMCA explains, “Power Scholars Academy is vitally needed in our area. Very few school districts offer summer learning opportunities to students who are behind in math, reading, or both subjects. Power Scholars Academy is a Y signature program and has been proven to halt the summer slide some under-resourced students face during summer vacation.”
“We are the only program of its kind to offer true academic instruction combined with a traditional camp experience in the South Sound,” continues Kimmel. “We are filling a desperately needed niche in the community. This is the Y’s first Achievement Gap initiative, so the passion and excitement behind Power Scholars Academy has been palpable in our entire association.”
The South Sound YMCA has raised over $40,000 to fund this pilot, making it possible to offer scholarships covering 100% of the program tuition for each family.
South Sound YMCA partnered with Olympia School District and North Thurston Public Schools to identify 50 Scholars entering second or third grade to participate in the pilot. In addition to having the entire cost of the program covered, each Scholar brought home a backpack full of books, math manipulatives, and workbooks upon completion of the program. On average, Scholars gained two to three months of math and reading skills from the five-week program while Kimmel reports that some local Scholars gained upwards of seven months of academic improvement measured by a pre- and post-test built into the curriculum.
The Power Scholars Academy curriculum was developed in partnership with Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) and Scholastic. The program’s morning focused on academic instruction provided by certified teachers in math and reading, while the afternoon offered a more traditional Y Camp experience integrated with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and community service projects. Each Friday, the Scholars were able to either go swimming in the local Y pools, experience field trips to develop cultural competency, or hear from guest speakers who inspired the youth to build the best of their potential. The Power Scholars Academy was located near partner schools so that Scholars could use the community lunch program and have access to the playground.
Kimmel shares, “We partnered with the Olympia Family Theater and WET Science Center to provide some of the Friday field trips. In selecting our guest speakers, we ensured they came from the local community and focused on inspiring Scholars to reach for future career or academic goals. And our STEM activities incorporated one or more of our nine curriculum components which were 21st century skills, college and career readiness, leadership development, service learning, arts education, global learning, health and wellness, academic support, and family engagement. We had the best academic teachers and youth development professionals in the South Sound.”
The Power Scholars Academy community service project component was planned on-site between the Scholars and the teachers. Scholars were able to assess the needs of their community, form a plan, and impact change where it was needed most. The community service projects aligned with the South Sound YMCA’s Youth Voice and Choice concept.
Kimmel comments, “We are excited to continue to build brighter futures in the greater South Sound through the Power Scholars Academy. We plan to work tirelessly over the next year to expand our program for the 2017 summer to continue to address summer learning loss for low-income children living in our community, enhancing overall youth development, academic performance, and graduation rates.”
To learn more about the South Sound YMCA, visit www.southsoundymca.org.