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Students Who Participate in YMCA Summer Programs Make Learning Gains

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Two summer academic and enrichment programs offered nationally through the YMCA of the USA and local Ys are helping students significantly improve their reading and math skills.

Last year more than 4,600 students in kindergarten through 8th grade attended Power Scholars Academy or PSA Camp summer programs. Students who take part in the programs are called scholars. The programs use a curriculum, which was developed by BELL, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of children in under-resourced communities. BELL is an acronym for Building Educated Leaders for Life.

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Computer adaptive assessments were given to all of the scholars before and after the programs, and they found that the participants gained an average of two months in reading skills and 1.5 months in math skills. The students were not compared to a control group.

Parents and teachers surveyed about the program's impact reported that the students improved in other areas as well. Eighty-seven percent of teachers reported an increase in their students' self confidence, while 90 percent of parents reported that their child had a more positive attitude about school.

Lauren Gilbert is BELL's president and chief strategy officer. She said she believes the programs' ability to change the mindset of the students leads to the academic gains.

"We put a lot of energy into working with the scholars to really see themselves as young people who are capable of learning, and we think that is actually the catalyst that will make these gains stick long after the summer," said Gilbert.

BELL and the YMCA of the USA first partnered up to offer the Power Scholars Academy in 2013. Two years later, they teamed up again to offer the PSA Camp model through local Ys, which adds academic instruction to existing summer camps.

Bela Moté is YMCA of the USA's vice president of evidence-based youth development interventions and the organization's national director of character development. She praised the collaboration with BELL as one that "truly works."

"The program is not only boosting students' reading and math, but also their self-confidence, and communication skills, which is a powerful combination," said Moté in a news release. "We are hopeful this program will make a difference in reducing the achievement gap in our schools."

During the summer, students from low-income families tend to lose more ground academically than their more affluent peers.

How It Works

Through the Power Scholars Academy, students receive instruction in small groups from Y staff and public school teachers who have been trained by BELL. The students are also exposed to enrichment activities. The six-week program runs Monday through Friday for 6.5 hours per day. The program targets students who are struggling academically and who lack access to summer learning opportunities.

Students attend both the Power Scholars Academy program and PSA Camps for free. Students who participate are not required to be Y members. The programs are funded through a mix of national philanthropy secured by BELL and local philanthropy secured by the local YMCA along with in-kind donations and financial support from partner schools and districts.

Last year, 48 different local Ys offered either a Power Scholars Academy or a PSA Camp.

Photo: A young scholar participates in a STEM activity during a PSA Camp at her local Y. (Photo courtesty BELL.)


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