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United Way’s Fun in the Sun Program Earns National Excellence Award

FITS provides low-income students in Santa Barbara County with high-quality summer learning

The National Summer Learning Association has chosen United Way of Santa Barbara County’s Fun in the Sun as a recipient of the 2012 National Excellence in Summer Learning Award.

Drawing on an array of community partners (involving 72 service delivery partners, 15 funding partners and 500 volunteer mentors), United Way of Santa Barbara County’s Fun in the Sun serves 250 young people ages 7 to 18 for seven weeks each summer. All participants come from low-income families and qualify for free and reduced-price meals during the school year.

The FITS program is designed for participants willing to make a multi-summer commitment, and offers a daily emphasis on 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 2011, 82 percent of participants showed an average of 2.1 reading grade level gains, according to a program evaluation. Initial program results for 2012 are increasingly impressive. In addition to receiving lunch and snacks and taking part in daily physical activity, young people take home bags of fresh fruit and vegetables for the weekend, along with clothing and school supplies.

“United Way of Santa Barbara County’s Fun in the Sun is thrilled, honored and humbled to be selected for the 2012 National Excellence in Summer Learning Award. This award is a communitywide recognition, with so many people and organizations helping during the past 16 years,” said Paul Didier, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County. “In addition to the great sense of community these partners help provide, our focus on research-based and continuous quality improvement activities for many years has paid huge dividends in results for partners, children and families.”

Research has established that low-income students are disproportionately at risk to lose academic skills during the summer. While most children lose up two months worth of math skills during summer breaks, lower-income children also lose two to three months of reading skills. 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.

Founded at Johns Hopkins University in 1992, the National Summer Learning Association has driven much of the recent research and awareness into summer learning loss and its effect on the achievement gap and provides resources, guidance and expertise to the summer learning community.

Their annual Excellence in Summer Learning Award recognizes programs that demonstrate excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“These excellent programs (National Excellence in Summer Learning Award winners) demonstrate the full potential of summer learning to transform the future for young people, helping them boost educational achievement and clearly see a path to college and career,” said Gary Huggins, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association.

The Excellence in Summer Learning Award seeks to draw national attention to these exemplary programs that provide and expand access to high-quality summer learning experiences. The award will be presented at the association’s annual Summer Changes Everything national conference Oct. 22-24.

— Sara Templeton represents United Way of Santa Barbara County.

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