Some kids are not waiting until the start of the school year to get back into the classroom. They are taking part in the BellXcell Power Scholars Academy run by the YMCA of Greater Hartford.
The program aims to cut down on learning loss in underserved communities and help kids conquer the classroom.
“They're confident and they're able to walk into the new school year knowing that they're ready to start the year off right,” Valenica Williams, executive director of Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center, said.
A group of kids reading, writing and drawing is a scene you would see in a regular classroom, but at the Power Scholars Academy, students are embracing reading and math during the summertime.
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“I learned about ratio in math, I've learned about the probabilities in math, too,” Gabriel Williams, a fifth grader said.
Students are keeping up their skills so they do not lose knowledge gained during the school year.
“I still remember stuff that I did in fifth grade, so I just like practice on that stuff for middle school,” Julian Ofori-Boadu said.
Many feel ready to tackle the next grade with confidence.
“It actually helps me a lot, because basically in sixth grade, it'll be challenging,” Gabriel Williams said.
The Hartford location at the University of Hartford Magnet School was one of the first in the country to launch the Power Scholars Academy. The six-week program also runs in East Hartford and West Hartford, serving nearly 200 students in grades K through 5.
“For our kids and underserved populations, it is a statistic that each participant, they lose about two months of learning,” Valencia Williams said. “That's because they're not involved in different extracurricular activities or enrichment programs that others may experience during the summer.”
However, according to 2021 data from all three Hartford area locations, students in the program on average gained half a month in reading skills and one month in math skills.
On top of that, 83% of students showed greater ability to work through challenges, and 92% of parents felt valued as partners in their child’s learning, according to the YMCA of Greater Hartford.
“Our goal through our program is to gain that back for them, so that they have at least a 10% gain in their school here before they start in the fall,” Valencia Williams said.
It’s not all classroom crunching either. After a morning of literacy and math, the kids spend each afternoon doing enrichment activities.
The fifth graders utilize a mobile kitchen to learn how to prepare meals for themselves.
“We're going to be making eggs. There are tomatoes, there's cheese,” Ofori-Boadu said. “Also eating is fun, too!”
“They play just as hard as they work,” Amanda Feliciano, child development coordinator at Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center, said. “This summer, we've had the opportunity to explore things like cooking and nutrition, gardening, sewing, stem, creative arts, creative writing, and sports and PE.
Feliciano, who is also the Power Scholars Academy site manager in Hartford, said the social aspect has become a focal point following months of remote learning driven by COVID-19.
“Unfortunately due to the pandemic, a lot of our children have had the misfortune of not being able to work on those skills or build them as they traditionally would within the school systems and in their classrooms,” she said. “What I've noticed is that there is a tremendous need in terms of supporting children's mental health and wellness. This summer, there's been a very intentional focus on ensuring that the children get to play, to foster healthy relationships and friendships.”
The program aims to build life skills.
“I've been here for three years,” Gabriel Williams said. "I have a lot of friends that I hang out with. I’m going to miss them.”
It makes the Power Scholars Academy a place where kids keep coming back.
“I've heard children absolutely go tit-for-tat with mom and dad, ‘I don't want to leave!’” Feliciano said. “That speaks volumes to the type of experience they're having here."
This year’s Power Scholars Academy wraps up Friday. Program leaders say since so many kids and families love to return each year, they are looking to expand it to higher grade levels in the future.