Aug. 3, 2012

2012 Excellence in Summer Learning Awards Press Release

Baltimore— The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) has chosen United Way of Santa Barbara County’s Fun in the Sun Initiative, Ohio State LiFE Sports, and GO Project of New York City as recipients of the 2012 Excellence in Summer Learning Awards.

This annual award recognizes summer programs demonstrating excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for low-income young people, 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 among more than 50 applicants for the 2012 award.

Jerry Davis, a member of Ohio State’s event management team who works with the LiFE Sports program, said the program is beneficial for all involved. 

“It is great we are able to teach 800 kids every summer positive social skills through sports while also using the camp as a learning laboratory for more than 40 Ohio State students from various majors,” Davis said. “In 5 years it is exciting to watch the LiFE Sports program epitomize the Ohio State ‘One University’ philosophy.  

“It is a great collaboration that includes the College of Social Work, the Department of Athletics, Recreational Sports, the College of Nursing and the College of Dentistry,” Davis said. “We have merely scratched the surface of our positive outreach with families in the community and the collaborations that exist on campus for our students.”

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.

“These excellent programs 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.

Drawing on an array of community partners, United Way of Santa Barbara County’s Fun in the Sun Initiative (FITS) 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 gains of 2.1 grade levels in reading comprehension, phonics, and vocabulary skills, according to tests administered at the beginning and end of the program. 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. Parents also receive specialized curriculum through weekly Parent Education workshops.

“UWSBC’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 community-wide 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.”

Run through a partnership between the Ohio State University Department of Athletics and the College of Social Work, the free LiFE Sports Camp serves 600 Columbus, Ohio, youth ages 9-15 for four weeks each summer, focusing on teaching participants vital life skills and social competence through sports. The program is built upon a community outreach program operating at OSU for the past 40 years, the National Youth Sport Program. Young people receive free breakfast and lunch as well as free transportation to and from the program.

During the culminating LiFE Sports Olympics, young people develop a team name, team banner, advertisements, posters, family invitations, and radio announcements for the Olympics. In addition, the youth work together to assign roles to their team during the Olympics. Youth also serve as referees, athletes, trainers and coaches. In 2011, 74 percent of the participants reported that they are interested in going to college because of LiFE Sports.

“Over the past five years, LiFE Sports has become a university-wide initiative aimed not only at supporting disadvantaged youth in the Columbus community but also at impacting the field of youth development through teaching, learning, and research,” says LiFE Sports education coordinator Rebecca Wade-Mdivanian. “This award from NSLA is an indicator to our University and community that LiFE Sports is on its way to being a national model for University and community outreach.”

GO Project seeks to address the challenges faced by underperforming students in kindergarten through eighth grade from high-need schools in Lower Manhattan. The five-week GO Summer program serves 494 young people with small classes focusing on reading, writing, and math, along with enrichment classes in subjects such as art, science, martial arts, and creative writing. Approximately 53 percent of GO students have a special education classification and 16 percent are English Language Learners. The GO Summer instructional model includes individualized curricula, certified teacher-led classes, and reading, math, ESL and speech pull-out services with specialists.

GO Project partners with independent schools that provide free classrooms, institutional support, volunteers, and programming resources. In summer 2011, students gained an average of two months’ skills in reading and four months in math, according to tests administered before and after the program.

“Most GO Project students are first or second generation American, low-income children and all are facing serious learning challenges in school at the earliest stages of their academic careers,” said Erica Ahdoot, GO Project Executive Director. “While most low-income students fall behind during the summer months, all GO Project students stay academically engaged throughout the summer, gaining the skills and confidence they need to combat summer slide and start the school year prepared and excited to learn.”

This year’s Excellence in Summer Learning Award winners will be honored Oct. 23 during a luncheon at NSLA’s 2012 national Summer Changes EverythingTM conference in Pittsburgh. To learn more about the conference, visit