Case Study of a Summer Partnership: Boys & Girls Club of Providence

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence (BGCP) Rhode Island recognized a need to address summer learning loss in their local community. In 2019, BGCP was eager to deepen its partnership with the school district and to help kids improve their academic skills to support the community and the District’s Turnaround Action Plan. BGCP learned of BellXcel’s evidence-based partnership model, which offered the flexibility, tools, coaching, and professional learning to meet BGCP’s needs.

The partnership combined BGCP’s 150 years of serving the Providence community with BellXcel’s expertise in academic out-of-school-time impact. This combination empowered BGCP to implement a high-quality summer learning program to address learning loss. Using data from 2019 and 2020 surveys, assessments, quality observations, and interviews, BellXcel’s research affiliate, the Sperling Center for Research & Innovation (SCRI), analyzed the summer learning program’s impact on youth staff, families, and the community. 

Read the full case study!

BellXcel CEO Joins Voices of Support for President Biden’s FY22 Budget Proposal

Lauren Sanchez Gilbert

President Biden’s FY22 budget request proposes strong and necessary investments in youth development. Summer and afterschool providers nationwide would have the critical opportunity to provide the level of programming required to address the losses our youth have experienced over the past year.

BellXcel’s decades of experience in evidence-based, high quality youth programming propels me to spotlight the urgency of whole-child investments in communities across the country.  Our youth need high-quality summer and afterschool experiences to thrive academically and emotionally and to grow beyond the school day.

Investing in programming based in evidence and adaptable to meet the unique needs of each community is critical. A one-size fits most approach will only further exacerbate and expose the inherent inequity so prevalent in our education system. True possibility of economic mobility begins early in life when all children have access to a strong pipeline of high-quality activities throughout their youth.

Our evidence proves that providing local educators and youth leaders with the tools, resources, professional learning, and support they need to build impactful learning experiences leads to real improved outcomes. We have witnessed first-hand, many times over, that the greatest impact can be made by serving each child, through the adults that they know, with strategies that work. 

These are remarkable times to be a leader in youth development and education and I thank President Biden for this historic proposal. 

Highlights of some of President Biden’s FY22 budget request include:

  • $20B for new Title 1 Equity Grants to support unserved communities
  • $1.3B for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to boost out of school time programming, including teacher professional development
  • $443M for Full-Service Community Schools for comprehensive services to youth and their families, from afterschool to health/nutrition services
  • $1B for new School-Based Health Professionals to double the number of counselors, nurses and mental health professionals in schools
  • $16B for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to support special education and related services Pre-K through 12


Our BellXcel team is committed to partnering with youth organizations and schools to maximize the quality of their programming for youth, educators, and families in communities nationwide. President Biden’s historic budget proposal gives us all a momentous leg up to ensure all children can excel! 


Lauren Sanchez Gilbert, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer

BellXcel Names 2020 Educator of the Year


Amidst the most challenging summer of 2020, a light shone bright at the Southeast Ventura County YMCA.

Julie Birkett, Site Director for the Y’s Find My Genius program, deftly led one of the few in-person summer programs anywhere in Southern California and has been named BellXcel’s 2020 Educator of the Year. As a leading national nonprofit in youth development, BellXcel recognizes outstanding educators dedicated to scholar success.

Julie Birkett, BellXcel Educator of the Year 2020
Julie Birkett, BellXcel Educator of the Year 2020

The award recognizes an educator who best exemplifies BellXcel’s core values of excellence, learning, respect, courage and collaboration. Julie was chosen out of more than 1,000 educators nationwide and her program served 140 rising 1st through 5th grade scholars.

Julie has been involved with the summer program at the Southeast Ventura County YMCA since the program launched in summer 2018, the same year she was honored as the Teacher of the Year for the Greater Conejo Valley. Fueled by her passion to make a difference in the lives of her scholars, Julie served as an academic teacher in 2018 and 2019 before stepping into a leadership capacity as Site Director amidst the tumultuous atmosphere of summer 2020.

Leaning into her dedication and experience, Julie steadfastly managed family and staff safety concerns and constantly-changing county health department protocols while ensuring a high-quality learning experience for scholars. She never lost sight of the high standards that the Y set for their Find My Genius program and the results speak for themselves. Scholars gained more than 3 months in ELA and Math skills and reported an average daily attendance of 88%.

A Zooming Surprise

Julie was informed of the honor during a board meeting for the Y. BellXcel CEO Lauren Sanchez Gilbert joined the Zoom call as a special guest and shared the news with the group and our very surprised and extraordinarily worthy recipient. Moments later Julie’s doorbell rang and she was presented with the award and a bouquet of flowers.

Lauren remarked, “It is my honor and privilege to recognize Julie as the BellXcel 2020 Educator of the Year. Set against the backdrop of a global pandemic and the unprecedented challenges educators have faced, it is especially inspiring to witness Julie’s embodiment of everything that this award represents.”

As summer 2021 draws closer and COVID-19 restrictions ease, a celebration in Julie’s honor is planned for this summer to be shared with her colleagues and the scholars she cherishes. We look forward to sharing more of the celebration and fun!


About Find My Genius, Southeast Ventura County YMCA

Find My Genius is a special, no-cost summer learning program launched by the Southeast Ventura County YMCA to help children catch up, stay on track or get ahead on their reading and math skills while providing summer camp fun! To qualify, children must be on free or reduced-priced lunch program and score below grade level at their school. For more information, visit www.sevymca.org.

Meeting the Complex Summer Learning Needs of a Rural Community

Wabash is a small, tight-knit community, with a population of just over 10,000, located in the north central part of Indiana. While rich in local pride and natural beauty, it is a struggling community, with over 13-percent of its residents living below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Prior to the Power Scholars Academy (PSA) programming in rural Wabash, Indiana, Stacey Fry, Director of Youth Development at Wabash County YMCA, recalls driving by homes over the summer and seeing children sitting idly on front steps, or playing outdoors alone. “That drive home from work felt sad,” she reminisces. “We saw a need for summer learning. Our local districts weren’t able to provide that, but the need still existed.”

Now, every summer, many of those same children can be found immersed in local schools, gaining key academic and social-emotional skills. The summer learning program combines fun, dynamic literacy and math instruction with hands-on enrichment, making for a holistic experience that prepares scholars for school-year success. “They are learning in a classroom setting and it feels good,” said Fry. “When we all work together, the children benefit.”

In 2015, in their quest to address the achievement gap in their local community, the Wabash County YMCA in partnership with the Y USA Achievement Gap programming connected with BellXcel. The program has earned measurable scholar and educator outcomes ever since.

“That’s why we still have a partnership with the schools, because we provide a good return on investment. They are able to show their students are making strides in the summer,” Fry says.

Professional Development Equips Educators

Teacher empowerment via BellXcel’s professional development is at the core of the PSA program. Prior to the summer program, educators receive in-person and virtual training in program administration, curriculum & instruction, culture & climate, evaluation & assessment, family engagement, and scholar management. Professional development prepares partners to implement a high-quality summer program that meets the needs of their learning community. “One good benefit of being a BellXcel partner is the trust. If we have challenges, there is a whole team of people who are ready to help us,” says Fry.

Academic teachers in Wabash are all local certified school teachers. This ensures that instruction is of the highest caliber, and aligned with school year success. “We are able through BellXcel to offer so much more professional development in a concentrated way, than what teachers receive over the school year.”

One of Fry’s poignant stories that captures the program’s power involves a PSA academic instructor who has been a local educator for over 20 years. The educator expressed that she was drawn to PSA due to its intentional instruction, and small group environments. The PSA program in Wabash maintains a ratio of 1 academic teacher to 12 scholars.

“She said to me, ‘I get to see these kids I saw before in a whole different light. I pour into them academically, but have the opportunity to see their creative side and that’s lost in the school-year classroom,” Fry says. “She sees these glimpses and that touched me. She gets revitalized with the same kids she spends time with during the school year.”

Strengthening Schools

The PSA has also helped connect the local Y with local schools over the summer and combine resources to offer much more than the usual summer camp type activities such as sports and recreation. She also credits the Y’s strong relationship with the State of Indiana’s Department of Education and local school districts to address the achievement gap.

“I have the privilege of deepening those relationships, and working closely with the school principals, to ensure they are seeing the outcomes and are connected to our mission,” she says. “Schools are working as hard as they can. They don’t have significant resources to move that needle. So, it’s nice to fill in that gap and take that off their plate so they can focus on what they do best.”

Safe Environment to Thrive

PSA is not only addressing the educational gap. Educators have also seen some secondary benefits, such as keeping children occupied, safe, and healthy. Often, Fry says, parents leave their children at home with older siblings, a less than ideal situation. Summer scholars receive free breakfast, snack and lunch and the program is provided at no cost to participating families.

“For most of their summer, we are able to nourish them and enrich them in a safe environment,” Fry says. “We are in a childcare desert. If we can lower the stresses faced by parents, it positively impacts the scholars.”


Educators Say Summer is an Excellent Opportunity to Polish Skills and Grow in their Careers

Scholars are not the only ones benefitting from YMCA of Greater San Antonio’s Power Scholar Academy (PSA). In fact, the BellXcel model is driven by the belief that the key to scholar success is educator empowerment.

“BellXcel has wonderful resources online and teacher toolkits that we use for a successful summer and in our careers for years to come,” said Bonnie Cavazos, instructional coach, who has served as the school librarian for 15 years, and as a local educator for over 27 years in the San Antonio school district. “We collaborate with each other as educators. We are all colleagues with a common goal.”

Educators say the summer program presents an opportunity to learn how to teach other grade levels. It also serves as a dynamic environment for mentoring and networking. Educators are not only connecting and building relationships with students, but with each other, in powerful ways. Younger teachers collaborate with more experienced ones, picking up new skills along the way.

Academic instructors also receive support from instructional coaches, who are experienced school teachers, creating a cycle of continuous learning and improvement. Cavazos and Carrol visit all classes throughout the day after testing and data analysis to observe classrooms, speak to scholars, support instruction, or jump in and guide discussion.

“Our role is to serve as a supportive pillow,” Amber Carroll, instructional coach and elementary teacher, says with a laugh. “We bounce ideas off teachers to make sure things run smoothly. We look at data to see where students should be, and have conversations with teachers to see how we can grow towards success. BellXcel gives us a great scope and sequence for us to follow.”

For many educators, the summer program represents an excellent opportunity to polish their skills and grow in their professional careers. “Working with different teachers and students in a different capacity, and gaining experience over the summer, is preparing me for a more effective school year, and a leadership position in the future,” said Carroll, who is nearing her degree to become a certified principal.

Educators say the BellXcel-powered summer program also boosts their motivation for teaching as its delivered in a more relaxed environment in smaller group environments, with increased support as compared to the school year.

“We’re having fun. We’re engaging,” said Carroll. “We see our class sizes so large during the school year, it’s hard to have that targeted instruction,” said Carroll. “Coming in as a teacher, you don’t have to teach to a test. You don’t have to worry about an end-game. We just want to make sure students get access to the learning they need, where they’re at. It’s a completely different world than teaching in the school year.”

Investment Leads to Impact in Washington, D.C.

It’s a bustling summer morning outside of Seaton Elementary School in the historic Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Eager children, led by their parents, stream into the school. They come from different age groups, races and backgrounds, but they share something in common. The children, enrolled in the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington’s school-based Power Scholar Academy (PSA), are all excited to learn.

As the K-6 scholars kick off their day, they are greeted with a familiar, endearing smile. “Good morning Ms. Janice!” the scholars exclaim one by one, as they greet Janice Williams in the lobby. With smiles radiating from ear to ear, the enrolled students, known as scholars, then embark on a full day of learning and enrichment at the Y’s summer learning program, powered by BellXcel.

Since 2013, the evidence-based summer program has empowered thousands of children through a holistic learning experience that has boosted scholars’ academic and social-emotional skills, as well as their self-confidence.

“Every day is a day where you’ll find scholars running to the program because they are excited about what they gain,” says Williams, YMCA of Metropolitan’s Senior Vice President for Program Development.

For her local community, Williams is more than a nonprofit administrator. She is a tireless and passionate supporter of expanding afterschool and summer learning for children from under-resourced communities. She has been with the YMCA for nearly 45 years, and with PSA since its inception. “Many of our schools that are in under-resourced communities don’t have the opportunity to meet the needs of all of the students that they have identified as struggling students,” she says. “We’re able to identify the particular area of challenge for scholars, and really put the resources in place to guide them to be more successful.”

“We have been so fortunate to have BellXcel’s support in Washington, D.C. Before, there were camp programs. There was summer school. But there was something missing,” Williams said. “PSA is among the best programs out there because it not only provides opportunity for academic support, it also provides opportunities for scholars to learn new things through enrichment. It’s supported by committed educators who want to be a part of a program that allows them to connect and provide young people with the social-emotional learning that is critically needed.”

With an educator to scholar ratio of 2 to 24, William says the program’s small group environments are a key differentiator. In each classroom, a certified teacher and teaching assistant lead individual, small group, and whole group exercises, in dynamic learning environments. With the utilization of instructional coaches and other support staff rotating, it is not uncommon to see upwards of three to four educators in a classroom, all working together to provide an exceptional high-touch learning experience.

“This kind of learning style really does impact our ability to provide them with the necessary support to thrive,” Williams says. “There is a high value in that child-centered learning. We are also excited about the peer-to-peer learning that the program supports and empowers.”

PSA also empowered educators with 21st century instructional skills and strategies they can transmit into the classroom in the school year. Among teachers surveyed, 87 percent said site leaders were highly supportive of educators; 89 percent said teaching in PSA was rewarding, while 80 percent of teachers want to work with the program again.

“We are pretty fortunate to be able to have scholars that are receiving something during the course of the summer, as well as educators, who apply their learnings into the classroom in the fall,” says Williams. “The partnership is critical because BellXcel allows the YMCA to present itself to the community with a stamp of excellence. They bring the kind of skills and resources that are going to enhance the school community and allow it to reach the level and the goals that the school has in mind.”

Williams says the demand for evidence-based summer learning programs in her community remains high, and advocates for continued support. “I would truly invite any funder to go and visit a site. It is truly something that you have to witness to be able to see what the scholars are receiving and the type of investment that is being made, and having scholars learn, thrive, and really the impact on not only the summer learning, but the true impact that it allows, and the potential of each and every scholar to succeed and excel.”


Ballmer Group’s Strategic Investment

Ballmer Group’s $30 million 10-year grant was catalytic in helping to enhance and scale BellXcel’s evidence-based programming.

Record 10-year $30 million grant from Ballmer Group to expand educational access to reduce summer slide

July 20 2017


BOSTON – BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), the largest evidence-based summer learning provider in the U.S. and a national leader in PK-8 out-of-school time (OST) education, received a 10-year $30 million grant from Ballmer Group. It is the largest grant in BELL’s 25-year history. Founded by former Microsoft CEO and Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, Ballmer Group supports organizations and initiatives aimed at improving economic mobility for children and families in the U.S.

BELL estimates that 7.5 million K-8 students from underserved communities are performing significantly below grade level. Up to two-thirds of the nation’s academic achievement gap is due to lack of access to quality summer learning programs. Students who are not proficient readers by third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school and face lower lifelong earnings.

Ballmer Group’s grant will support BELL’s mission to eliminate summer slide by strengthening the capacity of school districts and youth-serving nonprofits to deliver BELL’s high-quality, measurable and sustainable summer learning programs on a larger scale. Ballmer Group’s support will allow BELL to increase programmatic efficiencies to better meet the needs of scholars, parents and teachers, while developing technology solutions to enable greater scale of the BELL model.

“Education inequity is a national crisis that has long-term repercussions for our economy. It leaves underserved students at risk of being caught in a downward spiral of lower graduation rates, decreased lifelong earnings and generational poverty,” says BELL CEO Lauren Sanchez Gilbert, Ed.D. “Ballmer Group’s contribution allows us to further refine and replicate BELL’s holistic, data-driven summer programs to reach exponentially more underserved children living in urban, suburban and rural communities.”

Ballmer Group chose organizations that support individuals and families at key life stages, use evidence-based practices, track outcomes and utilize data for continuous improvement. “Many of our nation’s largest evidence-driven organizations are reaching less than 5 percent of their target population,” says Tonya Dressel, Executive Director of Ballmer Group. “In response, we are investing in national organizations like BELL with demonstrated impact that align with our interest in improving economic mobility for children and families.”

Students spend 80 percent of their time outside of the confines of the school day. Young people whose families cannot afford expensive summer and after school programs are at risk of suffering higher learning loss that is difficult to regain. Studies show that by fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave underserved children two and a half to three years behind their peers.

BELL’s academic and enrichment programs have been shown to reverse summer slide. Nationwide, more than 14,500 BELL students, known as scholars, experience an average of two month gains in reading and three month gains in math annually.

“We are grateful for Ballmer Group’s long-term investment in children and families across the nation,” said Dr. Gilbert. “They understand the challenges facing nonprofits and the importance of flexible funding to meet the complex needs of underserved communities. Their support will enable us to be more agile and responsive, and it will serve as an anchor to raise additional funds required to expand summer learning across the U.S.”

BELL transforms the life trajectories of scholars by empowering their circles of support, including parents and teachers. According to a 2016 survey, 92 percent of participating teachers say BELL helped them develop their professional skills, and the majority reported using BELL strategies in the classroom. Parents become more engaged as well, with 89 percent of those surveyed saying BELL programs made them more involved in their child’s education.

BELL supports program partners through all stages of their summer or after-school programs, including program design, curriculum development, professional development, measurement and technical assistance. BELL continuously applies and shares best practices and innovations as they are tested and refined in classrooms and other learning environments across the country.

About Ballmer Group:

Ballmer Group strengthens organizations and initiatives that increase economic mobility for children and families in the United States. Founders Steve and Connie Ballmer envision a country where the promise of the American Dream -that every child has an equal opportunity to build a better life -is within reach.

The above press release was originally published in 2017 and BellXcel remains grateful for Ballmer Group’s transformational investment.


Professional Learning that Leads to Increased Teacher Satisfaction … and Scholar Success!

Q&A with Beth Putnam, Assistant Director, Department of Alternative Education, Saint Paul, MN

The mission of the Department of Alternative Education in Saint Paul, Minnesota is to provide focused daytime, extended day, and summer learning opportunities to support student achievement leading to graduation. Power Scholars Academy (PSA) has been a summer learning program at Saint Paul Public Schools for seven years.

In your opinion, what distinguishes Power Scholars Academy from summer camps and other programs?

Power Scholars Academy offers a unique experience to students in both structure and content. Due to collaborative use of funds, scholars attend more hours and days than in most of our other programs, making it possible to teach core academics in the morning with licensed staff and enrichment, including field trips, in the afternoon with YMCA staff. The number of scholars working with each adult is lower than in most other programs, making differentiated one-to-one and small-group instruction more feasible. The literacy curriculum reflects the racial and cultural identity of students who attend, and data shows it is successful in meeting its intended results. As a bonus, scholars get to take books home.

What elements of the PSA program are particularly conducive to the success of scholars and educators?

The PSA curriculum, including assessments, supports teachers in knowing exactly what each scholar needs. Staff receive extensive training, materials are high interest, and scholars are able to do interest- and community-based experiential learning in the afternoons—these are all benefits leading to success. It is the perfect opportunity for scholars to stay physically active, maintain their academic skills, and develop social and emotional and leadership skills while learning more about their community, other people, and themselves.

How does PSA empower educators during the summer, and is this impact being felt in the school year?

Many of our PSA educators come back year after year. Although the school-year curriculum and instruction may be different than what is used for PSA, what is learned during PSA professional development and throughout the session becomes part of how staff approach and carry out their work during the school year. The close student and staff relationships built during PSA provide a solid basis for those whose work together continues past the session, ultimately increasing student success and staff job satisfaction.

New York Life Foundation Expands Access

New York Life Foundation’s support empowered BellXcel to think differently about how we support middle school youth.

BellXcel receives $3 million investment to expand access to summer and afterschool learning from the New York Life Foundation

BOSTON (April 2019) –BellXcel, a national education nonprofit, today announced a $3 million, three-year grant from the New York Life Foundation that will help the organization to expand access to evidence-based summer and afterschool learning for 12,000 at-risk middle-schoolers across the U.S.

This grant will help BellXcel develop new solutions to support its national network of program partners, which aim to strengthen the academic and social-emotional skills of middle school students. BellXcel programs have been proven to yield measurable gains in academics and social-emotional learning. Last summer, BellXcel scholars gained 2.5 months of math skills and 2.0 months of reading skills through five-to-six-week programs, reversing summer learning loss.

 “BellXcel’s proven success in the out-of-school time space aligns with our efforts to ensure that youth have year-round holistic learning experiences that develop important academic and social emotional skills,” said Marlyn Torres, senior program officer, New York Life Foundation. “We are dedicated to expanding access to high-quality out-of-school time programs for middle school students because they help prepare youth for long-term success.”

The New York Life Foundation’s investment will enhance BellXcel’s service offerings, including the development of an innovative technology platform that will allow for greater customization of program offerings to better meet the needs of BellXcel partners. It will also allow BellXcel to provide hundreds of middle school educators with professional development and in-service learning opportunities to enhance their teaching practice.

“With New York Life Foundation’s generous gift, we will strengthen our program model and delivery practices to scale up our collective impact on at-risk middle school students from urban, peri-urban, and rural communities,” said Lauren Sanchez Gilbert, BellXcel CEO. “It will expand our ability to empower partners to deliver summer and afterschool programs that yield measurable outcomes for both students and educators on a greater scale.”


About the New York Foundation

Inspired by New York Life’s tradition of service and humanity, the New York Life Foundation has, since its founding in 1979, provided nearly $280 million in charitable contributions to national and local nonprofit organizations. The Foundation supports programs that benefit young people, particularly in the areas of educational enhancement and childhood bereavement. The Foundation also encourages and facilitates the community involvement of employees and agents of New York Life through its Volunteers for Good and Grief-Sensitive Schools programs. To learn more, visit www.newyorklifefoundation.org.

Susan Crown Exchange Focuses on SEL

Susan Crown Exchange’s support allowed BellXcel to refine its social emotional learning supports for youth and educators.

For scholars like fourth-grader, Yocelyn, BellXcel provides unique opportunities to shine. As a dual-language learner, Yocelyn began the BellXcel summer program in Montgomery County reluctant to participate and ask questions. After five-weeks of working with supportive and empowered teachers in small-group instruction and team-based enrichment courses, Yocelyn has transformed into a confident leader. She now is the first one to raise her hand to share her perspective during group discussion and is eager to help her peers problem-solve tough concepts and try new things.

Recognizing that all learning is social and emotional, Susan Crown Exchange has partnered with BellXcel to help more educators create a positive culture and climate for scholar success. A generous $200,000 grant from Susan Crown Exchange, has supported the evaluation and expansion of BellXcel’s professional development (PD) offerings in social and emotional learning (SEL).  In 2019, BellXcel conducted a thorough review of program assessments, field research, and partner needs in SEL. During the COVID-19 crisis, we are now working closely with community partners across the nation to ensure engaging and trauma-informed instruction reach scholars this school year, in the summer, and beyond. Susan Crown Exchange’s continued support in 2020-2021 enables BellXcel to quickly respond to this immediate need and help educators infuse SEL in their classrooms and new remote learning settings.