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Greenville Students Gain Reading, Math Skills During Summer Programs



GREENVILLE, S.C., Nov. 24, 2015 - This summer, rising sixth graders made up ground in their reading and math abilities and entered middle school more prepared to succeed. The gains were the result of a new collective impact initiative, OnTrack Greenville, led by United Way of Greenville County and including Greenville County Schools and several community-based partners.

BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) kicked off the OnTrack Greenville effort by collaborating with schools to engage 137 "scholars" in free summer learning programs at Berea, Lakeview and Tanglewood middle schools, in the high-need White Horse community of Greenville. During the six-week program, scholars gained an average of one month each of reading and math skills, the equivalent of 10 percent of a school year.

For most of those attending, the alternative would have been the "summer slide," the phenomenon by which children and youth from low-income households and communities lose at least two months in reading and math skills during the school break for lack of access to summer camps, family travel or other learning opportunities.

Assessment data from the end of the summer learning programs show that students participating in BELL's academic and enrichment activities not only avoided summer learning loss but made up ground and were better prepared for more middle school's more advanced content in English language arts and math.

"Our goal is to help scholars who are performing below grade level make up some ground and improve their attitudes toward school," said Jerri Haigler, BELL's Executive Director for the Carolinas. "And to do that, we partner with schools and community organizations to expand learning opportunities in the summer. The results show these partnerships are working."

United Way of Greenville County launched OnTrack Greenville this year with support from a federal Social Innovation Fund grant and local partners that include Greenville County Schools, the Riley Institute at Furman University and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. BELL also raised philanthropic funds from national sources to cover a portion of program expenses, while Greenville County Schools contributed in-kind resources such as classroom space and meals. OnTrack Greenville continues during the school year, with Communities in Schools, the Greenville Health System, and Public Education Partners each playing a role in supporting the success of middle school students.

"OnTrack Greenville is an innovative, game-changing initiative that will play a critical role in building a Cycle of Success for everyone in our community," said Ted Hendry, president of United Way of Greenville County." "With evidence-based strategies and interventions like those provided by BELL, we are poised to help students stay on track toward high school graduation, and ultimately build thriving, successful lives for themselves and for future generations."

BELL scholars participated in summer programs that blended rigorous academic support and instruction in the morning with hands-on, camp-like enrichment activities and community engagement in the afternoon. Activities were designed to foster critical 21st Century skills like teamwork and leadership as well as expose scholars to career opportunities, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Scholars attended field trips ranging from the Upcountry History Museum to Bob Jones University to the Gravatopia trampoline park. Programs operated for six-and-a-half hours per day, four days per week for six weeks during the summer. BELL and its partners prioritized enrolling students who were struggling in school and who lacked access to summer learning programs.

Parents also reported the students made important gains in self-confidence and attitude toward school during the summer. Teachers for the program unanimously agreed that the summer work had helped them develop their professional skills.

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