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Education Week: YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs to Expand Summer Programs Piloted Last Year

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By Samantha Stainburn on June 6, 2014 11:17 AM

Two major nonprofit organizations serving children are expanding new-fangled summer programs they pilot-tested last year. Both programs move the idea of summer farther away from time-off-weeks of hanging out at the pool, watching too much T.V., and getting bored-to time-on-weeks that can be used for boosting academic skills and project-based learning.

The YMCA of the USA is expanding the Power Scholars Academy program it ran with the Boston-based after-school and summer learning organization BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) in Hartford, Conn., and Orlando last summer. The YMCA and BELL will add new sites in Montgomery, Ala., Denver, Washington, Clearwater, Fla., Minneapolis-St. Paul, and San Antonio, Texas.

A number of foundations, including the Wallace Foundation, are backing the expansion. (The Wallace Foundation also supports Education Week coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts education.)

Designed by BELL to narrow both the achievement gap and the opportunity gap for low-income students, Power Scholars Academy is a six-week, full-day program offered free-of-charge to public school students in grades K-8. Certified teachers and trained teaching assistants lead small-group instruction in literacy and math in the mornings, and students rotate through arts activities and sports in the afternoons, with Fridays used for field trips and community service projects.

Local YMCA staff will help manage the program at the school sites and lead activities along with teachers from each school district. Partnering with the YMCA "allows BELL to scale the impact of our summer learning model to many more communities," Michael Sikora, director of communication at BELL, told me. "You have several players working together sharing responsibility not only for implementation but also for funding."

The Power Scholars Academy program operated by the YMCA and BELL will reach 1,000 students in grades K-8 this summer, according to the organizations. Expansion plans call for adding even more sites over the next two years, with the partnership reaching 5,000 students in 48 cities by 2016.

Meanwhile, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) is expanding its Summer Brain Gain program, which it piloted in 200 clubs last summer, to 1,000 clubs. Funding for the program comes from the Walt Disney Co.

Developed with experts from the National Summer Learning Association, the National Center for Community Schools, and Harvard University's ArtScience Labs, Summer Brain Gain is designed to prevent summer learning loss and develop creative-thinking skills among elementary, middle, and high school students. The program consists of one-week modules around specific topics leading to a final project or presentation. Activities include making sculptures out of found objects and creating weather in a bottle.

"Summer learning losses can stack up from year to year, causing many low-income children to fall further and further behind, ultimately endangering their chances of high school graduation," Jim Clark, the president and CEO of BGCA, said in a statement. "BGCA is committed to ensuring that America's youth, especially those who need us most, graduate from high school on time with a plan for the future."

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