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BELL & YMCA of the USA expand summer learning opportunities and increase student achievement

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CHICAGO, December 1, 2015 - Elementary and middle school students in 14 cities who participated in unique summer learning programs organized by the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA), local Ys and BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) showed significant gains in reading and math skills, according to new assessment data.

In all, more than 1,850 scholars in grades K-to-8 attended the Power Scholars Academy™ summer program this year, an almost 80 percent increase compared to 2014. Scholars gained an average of two months in reading skills and three months in math skills during the summer, the equivalent of 20 percent and 30 percent of a school year, respectively.

For most of those attending, the alternative would have been the "summer slide" of losing at least two months in reading and math skills during the school break for lack of access to summer camps, family travel or other structured learning opportunities.

Outcomes are measured with computer-adaptive assessments at the beginning and end of each summer program. Teachers and parents also reported the students made important gains in self-confidence and social skills during the summer and teachers overwhelmingly agreed the summer work had helped them develop their own professional skills.

The Power Scholars Academy was launched in 2013 by the Y-USA and BELL in collaboration with local YMCA associations and schools. The partnership leverages BELL's expertise in delivering proven summer learning programs with the Y's national network of associations and their deep connections to families and communities.

The program has grown every year, expanding this year from eight YMCAs to 14. The new YMCAs participating in 2015 are located in Boise, ID; Cincinnati, OH; Houston, TX; Louisville, KY; Omaha, NE, and St. Louis, MO. They joined Hartford, CT; Orlando & Clearwater (Suncoast), FL; Montgomery, AL; Denver, CO; Washington, D.C.; St. Paul, MN, and San Antonio, TX.

In 2015, the Y and BELL also piloted a Power Scholars Academy Camp model for nearly 400 additional scholars in six communities: Boston, MA; Grays Harbor, WA; Jamestown, NY; Sacramento, CA; Selma, AL, and St. Petersburg, FL. The camp approach integrates core elements of the Power Scholars Academy into the existing infrastructure of YMCA summer camps, which are generally hosted at YMCA facilities rather than at public schools.

"If we are to bridge the achievement gap for our youth, then we need programs that work," said Jorge Perez, Vice President of Youth Development, Family Enrichment & Social Responsibility, YMCA of the USA. "The Power Scholars Academy is showing results. It's boosting reading and math scores while also building confidence."

"I can't say enough about what these local YMCA's are doing," added Lauren Gilbert, Ed.D., BELL's Vice President of Impact & Innovation. "Offering summer learning opportunities to struggling students can be life-changing and the Y's are making it possible to ‘scale up' this initiative around the country."

During the summer months, children who lack quality learning experiences tend to lose academic skills over the school break. Such losses accumulate 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.

The Power Scholars Academy program, based on BELL's evidence-based model, blends rigorous, small-group academic instruction with high-quality camp-like enrichment and community engagement activities. It operates 6.5 hours per day, 5 days per week for 6 weeks. Y staff and teachers from public schools, who are trained and supported by BELL, deliver the program at schools for students in grades K-8 who are struggling academically and who lack access to summer learning opportunities in their community.

In addition to the academic impact of summer learning, the Power Scholars Academy students strengthened their social skills, participated in physical activities and accessed nutritious meals. Nine out of 10 students increased their self-confidence, according to teachers, while nine out of 10 students enjoyed their summer learning experience, according to parents. The summer programs also helped nine out of 10 parents become more involved in their child's education.

The Y is one of the nation's leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children - regardless of age, income or background. Across 10,000 communities nationwide, the Y is committed to nurturing the potential of all children and teens by providing holistic support to every child's individual development journey, from birth to career. To learn how the YMCA impacts your community, visit: ymca.net.

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