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United Way’s Fun in the Sun 2013 — Education Beyond the Classroom

There are 14 days left until the start of United Way’s national award-winning program Fun in the Sun.

FITS, which for the 17th year, will be providing comprehensive services for children and their families during the summer months.

With the collaboration of an array of community partners (involving 63 service delivery partners, 19 funding partners and 500 volunteer mentors), FITS serves an average of 250 financially and academically at-risk children (ages 7 to 18) and their parents for seven weeks each summer. All participants come from low-income families and qualify for free and reduced-price meals during the school year.

This year, Fun in the Sun seeks to improve the academic, social, behavioral and life skills of each participant while reducing and reversing summer learning loss, which research shows accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap separating income groups. The program offers participants a fun learning environment with a daily emphasis on literacy, including reading and writing. Afternoon enrichment opportunities include activities in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), service learning, and field trips throughout the summer.

In 2012, 82 percent of participants showed an average of two reading grade level gains, according to program evaluation.

By utilizing the strengths of more than 60 local partners, the program offers a comprehensive package that no single organization can provide on its own. In fact, because of its success in reversing summer learning loss, last year FITS was awarded the 2012 Excellence in Summer Learning Award from the National Summer Learning Association, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. Since 1997, 90 community partners have contributed to the program’s success and the program has served more than 2,500 local children and 1,500 parents.

Local individuals and groups have the opportunity to volunteer an hour of their lunchtime to serve as mentors for FITS students. During “Lunch Bunch,” the volunteer mentor component to Fun in the Sun, students learn about different career and academic paths and are encouraged to succeed while volunteers enjoy a fun and rewarding experience.

“FITS is the oldest and largest public/private partnership dedicated to long-term improvement in the lives of low-income children and their families in Santa Barbara County,” said Paul Didier, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County. “Students enter our program academically at-risk and leave with improved academic performance and social behaviors.”

— Kerstin Padilla is a development and marketing assistant for United Way of Santa Barbara County.

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