Programs in Charlotte, N.C., Newark, N.J., and Berea, Ky., showcase the best in summer learning for low-income students 

UBMS_Group_Summer_2014Baltimore—The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) has announced the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, NJ LEEP and Berea College as recipients of the 2014 New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning Awards. The annual award recognizes summer programs demonstrating excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for low-income children and youth, as measured by NSLA’s Comprehensive Assessment of Summer Programs. Winning programs also demonstrate exemplary practices in overall programming, including supporting staff, schools, and other program partners in fulfilling shared goals. The three programs were chosen from 62 applicants for the 2014 awards.

“Our 2014 award winners exemplify the best in summer learning and the impact that high-quality summer learning opportunities can have on student success,” said Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “From rural communities to large urban cities, these programs are offering an engaging combination of rigorous academics and meaningful enrichment to students who otherwise might lack these important opportunities.”

Research has established that low-income students are disproportionately at risk to lose academic skills during the summer. While most children lose up to two months of math skills during summer breaks, lower-income children also lose two to three months of reading skills without practice. The cumulative effects of this “summer slide” contribute significantly to the achievement gap, yet only one-third of low-income families report having a child enrolled in a summer learning program. Excellence Award winning programs strive to curb these losses, but also employ other research-based practices to build 21st Century skills, confidence, parental engagement, and future aspirations.

At the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s Y Readers program, more than 500 first-, second- and third-graders who are reading below grade level participate in a reading-intensive program designed to help them get caught up over the summer. Last year the program was offered in three Charlotte, N.C.-area school districts for six weeks and a total of 192 hours of programming. The program has proved especially important in light of recently passed state legislation that requires districts to retain third graders who are not proficient in reading.

Y Readers is centered on a curriculum designed to build student’s literacy abilities, while still maintaining a fun, camp-like atmosphere. Students spend mornings participating in literacy-

focused activities, while afternoons are spent doing enrichments that often weave in the reading curriculum, like performing Reader’s Theater scripts or making masks of book characters.

Y Readers has made a tangible impact on students’ literacy: In 2013, students improved their reading level by an average of three months, and 86 percent of all students maintained or improved their reading skills. This successful model has already expanded to dozens of other Y locations and will continue to do so in 2015.

At NJ LEEP’s College Bound Summer Session, approximately 140 high school students participate each summer in a five-week program focused on building skills through law-related activities and college-focused instruction. On the campus of Seton Hall Law School, ninth-graders participate in a “Summer Law Institute,” learning about criminal law and trial process and participating in a mock trial competition. Rising tenth-graders work in paid internships at law firms and corporations such as Prudential Financial. Eleventh-grade students participate in SAT preparation, and twelfth-graders are guided through the college application process, while also completing a college-level western philosophy curriculum designed to ensure students learn essential study skills.

Participating students come from Newark and surrounding neighborhoods, where roughly half of students in the public school system have demonstrated high-school reading proficiency and only 38 percent of students have high-school math proficiency. The majority of NJ LEEP students come from low-income, minority families and the program strives to empower youth to succeed academically and gain admission to four-year colleges and universities.

One hundred percent of the students who have graduated from NJ LEEP’s college bound program have gone on to college, with students currently attending institutions such as Rutgers University, Georgetown University and Princeton University.

The Partners for Education at Berea College Upward Bound Math and Science program serves 60 high school students from low-income Appalachian families in Eastern Kentucky. For six weeks each summer, students stay in residence halls on Berea College’s campus, receive meals, take classes that include Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) projects, engage in ACT preparation, explore careers and take field trips to other colleges. In the evenings, students also have opportunities to take enriching classes typically unavailable at their local school, such as Islamic Language and Culture or Poetry through Print. For students who have completed twelfth grade, the program offers a chance to earn college credit through a first-year college-level research course taught by a Berea professor.

Fewer than 20 percent of local residents hold a bachelor’s degree, and the economic depression and rural isolation of the area limits students’ access to STEM opportunities. But through the Upward Bound Math and Science program, students have the chance to experience life on a college campus and undertake rigorous, fun STEM experiences like visiting a fossil bed and learning about archeology.

Youth who have participated in the program have enrolled in postsecondary institutions at a higher rate than Kentucky students. In 2013, 75 percent of students from the program went on to postsecondary education, compared to 63 percent of students statewide.

The National Summer Learning Association is the only national nonprofit exclusively focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities. NSLA recognizes and disseminates what works in summer learning, develops and delivers capacity-building offerings and convenes and empowers key actors to embrace summer learning as a solution for equity and excellence in education. For more information, visit


04_group_clapHigh school students and special guests dined together at Boone Tavern Thursday to celebrate six successful weeks of college and career readiness activities as part of Berea College’s Upward Bound Math and Science Center program.  Berea College President Lyle Roelofs addressed the high school students at their end-of-summer celebration banquet, telling them “You and I are the same,” citing his background in physics as proof of his passion for science education.  The 38 students, from Estill, Jackson, Lee, Madison, and Rockcastle counties, ranged from teenagers entering their second year of high school to students preparing to start college in the fall.  They all were chosen for the program because they showed aptitude for math and science.

01_PresidentBerea College has been home to the residential program since 1999. Upward Bound Math and Science requires that students tackle a rigorous curriculum of college-readiness activities while living in Berea College dormitories for six weeks.  The goal is to increase the rate at which participants’ graduate from high school attend college, and graduate from college.

02_at_tableElliott Board spoke to his fellow students at the banquet.  “This means a lot to me.  It was my escape,” he said.  “To become more studious in your ways, and to learn, and to learn about loving to learn.” He then asked the audience to envision getting their school schedules in the fall.  “We’re gonna be prepared.  That puts us more than just one giant leap ahead of all the other regular students.  We know more, we’ve been through more, and we have more,” he said.  “This program has done so much for me.” Board will be a freshman at Berea College in the fall.

06_speechOver the summer, five college professors and math and science professionals taught students, helped them conduct experiments, and accompanied them on scientific exploration trips. Students toured the University of Kentucky botanical gardens and met with engineering students, visited the Center for Disease Control and toured its Smithsonian Affiliate Museum.

15_smile_closeHolly Branscum, program director for Upward Bound Math and Science, was pleased with the progress students made. “A success—that is how I would describe the summer,” she said. “Part of being a successful college student is learning how to live in a residential setting with strangers, learning how to study and how to find the resources available.” But the students did not stop there, she observed. “Many found their voices and are now confident students.”

Upward Bound Math and Science Center is a federally-funded program implemented by Partners for Education at Berea College. Partners for Education uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky.  To learn more, visit http://partners.berea.eduUBMS_Group_Summer_2014