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The Sacramento Bee: YMCA camp tackles summer learning loss

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Site Coordinator Heather Faubion leads children in a camp song at the YMCA's Power Scholars Academy at the Dr. Ephram Williams Family Life Center in Oak Park, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Photo by Lezlie Sterling.

By Diana Lambert
Published July 17, 2015

The YMCA summer camp in Oak Park isn't all fun and games this year.

The Sacramento program was selected as one of six nationwide to pilot the YMCA's Power Scholars Academy, which adds academics to its traditional summer program.

This week, kids wearing orange T-shirts emblazoned with "Finding My Genius" on the front and "Power Scholars Academy" on the back played basketball and took part in group cheers between English and math classes at the Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center.

"It's a blend of all that," said Diana Stantz, spokeswoman for the YMCA of Superior California. "That makes learning fun and makes it something they want to do on summer vacation."

The six-week program serving kindergarteners through eighth-graders was developed to combat summer learning loss in low-income communities. 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, according to the YMCA.

On Wednesday, teacher Heather Faubion moved between groups of students enthusiastically handing out assignments in her math class. The first- and second-graders would practice counting to five. The third- and fourth-graders would practice multiplication with a favorite game, a task that drew cheers.

In the next room, teacher Tyler Allen worked on English skills with the older students. He set a group of seventh- and eighth-graders to reading aloud, while he helped fifth- and sixth-graders review the parts of speech.

Although the program is mostly a review of what students learned last school year, some are working a few grade levels ahead, Faubion said. Almost all of the 45 kids at the Oak Park summer camp tested at grade level on reading and math assessments at the beginning of the camp, she said, noting that many attend high-achieving charter schools in the neighborhood.

"The best part of Power Scholars is that it is preparing me for fourth grade," said 8-year-old Jiji Scott, who attends St. Hope's Public School 7.

Maurice Townsend, an incoming eighth-grader at James Rutter Middle School and a return camper, said he likes the review of English and math that the program provides. "It's broken down better" than at his school, Maurice said.

"Next summer I'll be able to come back as a helper," he said, adding that he will be too old to be a camper.

Enrollment at the summer camp program more than doubled in size when parents learned about the Power Scholars Academy, said Faubion, who also is the site coordinator. "Parents are thrilled about it," she said.

Power Scholars Academy was started at three sites in 2013 as a year-round program by YMCA USA in partnership with Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL, a national nonprofit. This is the first year the program is being piloted as a summer program.

The academic program, developed by BELL, includes math and reading instruction in the morning with enrichment programs and field trips in the afternoon and on Fridays. Certificated teachers are assisted by teachers assistants.

Seventy percent of the students in the Oak Park program are from the neighborhood, Stantz said. Many are members of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, which offers space to the YMCA camp at its Dr. Ephraim Williams Family Life Center.

"It's a good thing to be able to do something like this for the children," said Theresa Evans, a church member. She said she was impressed with the program's teachers and how they interact with the children.

The YMCA has 10 day camps in the greater Sacramento region that offer field trips, activities and enrichment programs. The Oak Park program is the only day camp offering math and English instruction as part of the Power Scholars Academy. All the programs offer free breakfast and lunch through the federal Summer Food Service Program.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article27527467.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article27527467.html#storylink=cpy

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