Summer Learning Association Honors 5 Summer Programs

By Nora Fleming — August 12, 2011 3 min read
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The National Summer Learning Association has just announced the winners of its annual Excellence in Summer Learning Award.

This year marks the highest number of awards that the NSLA, a Baltimore-based nonprofit focused on promoting summer programs and summer learning, has recognized since the program started in 2005. The award is based on overall programming quality as it relates to in-depth academic content and strengthening youth-development outcomes. In addition to content, awards are given based on strong staffing, partnerships with schools and organizations, parental engagement, and the building of 21st-century skills, among other criteria.

“These programs each have a very strong culture that sets the bar high for participants,” said Sarah Pitcock, senior director of program quality at NSLA. “Whether it’s through rigorous, college-like content, analysis, and discussions, or through positive behavior-management strategies, these programs all empower young people to take control of their experience and the direction of their learning and contribution.”

One winner, the Fiver Children’s Foundation, based in New York, started as a summer program but now offers a variety of year-round mentoring and counseling programming for at-risk youths, ages 8 to 18, in addition to residential summer programs.

Participants are given a 10-year commitment pledge from Fiver to stay in the program, which focuses on building character, confidence, and other youth-development outcomes. Of the students who completed 10 summers in the program, 96 percent graduated from high school, and a large majority went on to college, graduated from college, or entered the military.

The Phillips Brooks House Association’s Summer Urban Program has been in operation for more than three decades, serving elementary to high school age students from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. The seven-week program is academically focused, and students take pre- and post-diagnostic tests to measure program effectiveness. Students take daily field trips and work on local community-service and advocacy projects in their neighborhoods. Also offered is an evening program for English-language learners to improve their English skills and a Native American Youth Enrichment Program, the only summer program in Massachusetts solely for Native American students.

The Pennsylvania education department runs the Erie, Pa.-based Migrant Education Program for children of migrant workers for nearly 50 years. The Migrant Education Program serves 2,800 children, kindergarten through 12th grade, in four- to five-week summer sessions at 22 sites. (The program also has school year programming.) The participants typically come from high-poverty backgrounds and are often very transitory. Sites focus both on academics, particularly a push on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and providing students with new experiences; one site in Erie offers sailing lessons.

Global Kids Inc. runs a U.S. in the World program that serves only 25 kids each summer at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The program’s aim is not just to make participants more globally aware but eager to become advocates for international causes they care about and to encourage their peers to do the same.

Students, who mostly come from underserved and minority backgrounds, spend three weeks engaging with guest speakers from governmental and nongovernmental agencies and work on group projects, then spend the rest of the summer planning a peer education project of their choosing to bring back to their schools in the fall.

Project Exploration is a STEM-focused program for low-income middle and high school students in Chicago. The program has six separate specialty initiatives, such as a science program for girls and one on forensic science. After study at the University of Chicago, some participants go on to a field study at Yellowstone National Park.

“A 10-year study of Project Exploration found that 95 percent of participants graduated or were on track to graduate from high school. This is double the overall rate of Chicago public schools,” the NSLA reports, "[and] 60 percent of Project Exploration graduates are enrolled in a four-year college and pursuing STEM-related degrees.”

Fiver’s summer program.
Global Youth participants listen in on a panel on international affairs.
Courtesy of the National Summer Learning Association.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.