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The Community Foundation Blog

Power Scholars: A data-driven twist on summer school
By The Community Foundation / September 10, 2019
Power Scholars: A data-driven twist on summer school

It can be difficult to get students excited about learning, especially during their precious summer days. But what if summer school felt more like summer camp?

This year, Richmond Public Schools (RPS) did away with the traditional summer school model for all elementary and middle school students. Instead, they partnered with YMCA of Greater Richmond for a new data-driven approach with documented results: Power Scholars Academy.

“We wanted a different spin on summer school. It should go beyond having students do more of the same,” said Tyra Harrison, RPS Manager of Student Supports and Intervention.

The focus is on supporting the whole child, from social and emotional learning to academics and enrichment. In the mornings, students tackle lessons on literacy and math. In the afternoon, kids choose what they’d like to do from a range of engaging activities: creative writing, coding, African dance, hip-hop, drumming, gardening and more.

On Fridays, students swap enrichment activities for field trips, exploring places like Maymont Park, the Science Museum of Virginia and Virginia Repertory Theatre. These excursions give students hands-on experience with the things they’re learning in the classroom. “I have enjoyed the enrichment, especially TechConnect because I like coding,” rising eighth grader Leiland B. said. “I'm going to miss this place.”

The Community Foundation aspires to help more children like Leiland find their passion for learning. By sharing information and coordinating site visits, the Foundation and its donors provided $102,500 in gap funding for the Power Scholars Academy, aided by the efforts of one donor who incentivized additional gifts with a match challenge. This funding helped Richmond Public Schools scale the program to serve just over 1,100 elementary and middle school students.

“With enriching experiences coupled with support around what they may have missed during the school year, it has more of a ‘camp’ feel. I think doing it this way has really helped with our summer attendance,” Harrison said. In fact, Power Scholars saw an 82% daily attendance rate – two percent higher than this year’s goal.

Data from other Power Scholars programs throughout Virginia – including two years of previous pilot programs in Richmond – shows that this style of learning has tangible benefits.

“A typical child will lose two months of learning during the summer. Breaking even, with no learning loss, would be a huge success, but we’re seeing our kids move forward a month and a half instead of losing two months,” said Betsy Peters, Sr. Vice President of Youth Development with YMCA.

The program’s structure benefits parents too. Power Scholars Academy runs five days a week for five weeks, and the Academy’s days run through the afternoon as opposed to the half-day format of traditional summer school. Students receive breakfast and lunch, and RPS coordinates transportation. In total, Power Scholars served 1,109 RPS elementary and middle school students this summer. Numbers are expected to grow in future years as students begin to share their summer experiences with their classmates.

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