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Education Week: Summer Program With Gains in Reading, Math Adds another 1,000 Slots

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By Kathryn Baron on June 5, 2015

Two national nonprofits are nearly doubling the size of a free summer program that has successfully blocked the summer learning slide and improved reading and math skills, especially for students struggling the most in school.

The Chicago-based YMCA of the USA and Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), headquartered in Dorchester, Mass., are expanding their Power Scholars Academy to elementary and middle school students in seven additional cities this summer-Boise, Idaho; Cincinnati, Ohio; San Diego, Calif.; Houston, Texas; Louisville, Ky.; Omaha, Neb.; and St. Louis, Mo. You can get more details on the program here, in our article from last October.

Last summer, the 1,190 students in Power Scholars gained an average of 1.6 months of reading skills and 1.1 months of math skills, based on scores from the STAR assessment, which is aligned to Common Core State Standards, according to an analysis prepared by the two organizations.

As the graph below from BELL and the YMCA shows, the increases were twice as high in math and 56 percent higher in reading among students who had the most difficulty in school, those scoring in the bottom 25 percent on state exams. Their reading and math skills improved, on average, by 2.5 months.

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Teachers reported that students enrolled in the program also strengthened their social skills, were more self-confident, and had better attitudes toward school.

The program was launched in 2014 at schools in six states-Denver, Colo.; Hartford, Conn.; Montgomery, Ala.; Orlando and the Clearwater area of Florida; St. Paul, Minn.; and San Antonio, Texas. Power Scholars will also be increasing the number of slots in those programs this summer.

"Our partnership with the Y and its broad community-based network is helping us solve the challenge of scaling the impact of summer learning so that more scholars, schools, and communities benefit," said Tiffany Gueye, BELL's Chief Executive Officer, in a written statement.

As Education Week reported here several weeks ago, disadvantaged students who never attend a summer program could lose up to three years of learning by 5th grade.

Power Scholars is an intensive program. It runs 6.5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. In addition to academics, students also participate in the usual summer activities, including sports, field trips, hands-on enrichment activities, and service projects. The tab, which is covered by foundations and other funders, is about $1,000 per child.

The YMCA and BELL say their goal is to more than double the size of the program next year to serve upwards of 5,000 students in the summer of 2016.