Daren Howard, technical assistance manager for the Partnership for Children & Youth, addresses the importance of continuing education over the summer during United Way of Santa Barbara County’s kickoff Friday of its Fun in the Sun summer enrichment program. (United Way of Santa Barbara County photo)

In celebration of National Summer Learning Day, United Way of Santa Barbara County and invited guests last Friday celebrated the kickoff of its national award-winning Fun in the Sun (FITS) summer enrichment program at the La Cumbre Junior High School theater in Santa Barbara.

The celebration included remarks by Paul Didier, president and CEO of UWSBC; Daren Howard, technical assistance manager at Partnership for Children & Youth; and a FITS alumni who has returned to staff the summer program.

Fun in the Sun is a six-week summer learning program for local academically and financially at-risk children and families. Research has established that low-income students are disproportionately at risk to lose academic skills during the summer. The average poverty-level child experiences a loss in learning (e.g. reading grade levels) over the summer months.

“It’s important to recognize that every community has a mix of people with resources and those without,” Howard said. “Students who grow up with low resources are most affected by summer learning loss, as they are less likely to attend summer camps or be read to by their parents on a daily basis when compared to their higher resource peers.”

FITS aims to reverse this trend through hands-on, project-based lessons and technology driven literacy programs while utilizing the best services and ideas from more than 70 local public and private partners.

“Fun in the Sun 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,” Didier said. “We are thrilled to kick-off Fun in the Sun in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day, and help advocate awareness about the importance of summer learning in helping close the achievement gap.”

FITS 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 projects and field trips.

FITS runs through July 31 at five sites: Aliso Elementary School in Carpinteria, El Camino Elementary School in Goleta, Franklin Elementary School and La Cumbre Junior High School in Santa Barbara and its brand new site at Santa Ynez Elementary School in the Santa Ynez Valley.

In 2014, 93 percent of participants showed gains of +2.05 reading grade levels, according to pre- and post- assessments. FITS’s results have been so extraordinary that in 2012, FITS was named winner of the 2012 Excellence in Summer Learning Award by the National Summer Learning Association, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University and leading research body on summer learning loss and its effect on the achievement gap.

— Angel Pacheco is a publicist representing United Way of Santa Barbara County.