Summer Collaboration Leads to Year-Round Success in San Antonio, TX
When 10-year-old Hattie Tillman, a rising 6th grader enrolled in YMCA of Greater San Antonio’s Power Scholar Academy (PSA), first embarked on her summer learning journey, she struggled with growth mindset. Today, when she gets an answer wrong, instead of shutting down like she used to, she says “It’s OK. I will get the next one right!” Once shy, she now beams with confidence. She enjoys helping other scholars. Her math and reading skills have always been solid, and through PSA, she’s bringing them to another level.
“Here, she’s taking concepts she learned in the school year, and applying them to real-life, instead of compartmentalizing them. She’s learning that they’re all interconnected,” says Veronica Mansfield, academic instructor in PSA and a certified teacher during the school year.
“She keeps pushing. Her confidence has improved. I’m proud of her,” said Hattie’s mother Karen Beard. “There’s a lot of negative pressure and violence in our neighborhood. She’s in a safe place to learn and grow.”
Hattie is one of many shining examples of scholars enrolled in Power Scholars Academy, a partnership between YMCA of Greater San Antonio and BellXcel. Scholars, are improving their academic skills, social and emotional learning, and self-confidence, preparing them for success in school and beyond. The evidence-based summer program was launched to support struggling local schools, and to address summer learning loss.
“Children in our community really need this program. They don’t have access to the same things other children do over the summer,” says Catherine Alvarado, Senior Director of Grant Administration and Program Innovation. “This is one of the poorest districts in San Antonio, and literacy is one of our biggest areas of need. This is my community. What pulls me in is knowing that we are helping children become more successful.”
The PSA program’s success can also be attributed to the close, collaborative relationship with the schools they serve. This relationship isn’t confined to the summer months. It is year-round. Two PSA program directors, Elisa Felix and Edna Castillo-Saucedo, are embedded in the schools during the school-year. “Being in the school enables me to closely work with teachers and counselors, and engage with parents, to identify and enroll students who need extra help into the summer program,” Felix says.
“We see the difference this level of engagement with schools is having compared to other sites,” said Alvarado. “We are a pillar of the school. We are a bridge for that continuum of learning with students from their community. When we speak to a financial supporter about the community needs, we speak to our impact on scholars, teachers, and on moving the entire school forward.”
The partnership with BellXcel has helped their program reach new heights of success, says Alvarado. “This is too big a problem for one agency to handle alone,” Alvarado says. “Without the support of BellXcel, we wouldn’t have the data we so desperately need to prove that the program is working. Funders want to see outcomes, more than just outputs. BellXcel helps us prove that what we are doing in the partnership is working.”
Myima is a rising 7th grade scholar in her second summer enrolled in a BellXcel-powered summer program.
How did you feel initially about being enrolled in the program?
Honestly, I was a little scared at first because I didn’t know if I was going to know anybody and if I was going to make any friends.
So did you end up making new friends?
Yes! I made new friends, and also saw some familiar faces. It was nice to see my classmates over the summer too.
How has the program helped you with your academics?
I get mostly As and Bs in school. I think the program has helped me maintain my skills. If I wasn’t here, I’d probably be behind in school. It’s sort of re-teaching you what you did in school, so you still know what to do when you go back to school.
Was there a part of the program that you enjoyed the most?
One of my favorite parts was a literacy project when we had to finish the ending of a play. We had to make up the ending, and act it out. I liked that you got to just make stuff up, and choose what happens with the characters. It’s a different way of learning compared to the school year. It’s more creative.
Geffrey is a rising 6th grade scholar in his first summer enrolled in a BellXcel-powered summer program.
Tell us about what you are learning in the program.
We learn a lot in fun activities and they teach us math and language arts. In math, I’m learning how to subtract, add, and multiply fractions and decimals.
When you go back to school do you feel you will have a head-start?
Yeah, I think because most people if they don’t go to summer school, they might lose their knowledge about some important stuff. I think I am better prepared for school. Some of my friends in 6th grade told me it’s a review of what they learned in school so I’m getting a head start. It’s making us review the materials.
What is the difference between this and school?
I think it’s more fun learning and the teachers have more time to spend with you to teach you things you are having a hard time with. That’s the biggest difference – not feeling so pressured and rushed.
What else do you like about the program?
I can go up to the whiteboard more and write answers the questions. I can participate more.