The 80 first-through-fifth-grade children participating in the YMCA of Silicon Valley’s Summer Learning Program (SLP) at Kathryn Hughes Elementary School in Santa Clara consider themselves pretty lucky. The free, eight-week program, which runs June 13 – August 5, offers two weeks of academic tutoring by credentialed teachers, day-camp activities that include computers and art, led by trained YMCA leaders, and nutritious meals and snacks.
“We have lots of fun activities. We play sports and read. I like spirit time. We sing songs and let energy out,” said 10-year-old Dylan Y.
The summer learning program (SLP) runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Breakfast is followed by spirit time, when all 80 happy campers go outside en masse for wake up stretches and songs. The campers each stand in their own space on the playground, marked by a number, and let loose as directed by the YMCA leaders. They begin with an attitude check.
“We feel good! Oh, we feel so good! Uh, uh, uh!” the kids chant, waving and pumping their arms in the air and dancing around in place.
Everyone calls out the YMCA song: “The Y is an open door/ You’re right/ Since 1844/ You’re right!…”
Before the kids know it, morning classes focusing on math and reading are over and it’s lunchtime. Going through the cafeteria line on June 22, the kids had a choice of cheese or pepperoni pizza, a bag of baby carrots, an apple or an orange and a carton of milk. They get bag lunches for weekly field trips to places such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco and Great America in Santa Clara.
The kids are clearly converts to the fit lifestyle promoted by the YMCA.
“Most of the time the food is good. It’s fun here,” said 11-year-old Emmanuel C. “It takes you off your video games system a lot and gets your eyes off the TV.”
“I think the food is good and healthy,” said 10-year-old Jania R. “[Day camp] makes you want to do more things outside. It’s better if you exercise than just watch a lot of TV and stuff.”
Through the Kids NOW (Nutrition on the Weekends) program of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, students also take home food for the weekend. Dry food and produce is distributed on Thursdays.
“Our program has a big impact on the kids we serve, in academics, nutrition and self-confidence,” said Hughes Site Director Christina Wong. “We see the quietest kids start shouting out of nowhere.” She shared how excited everyone was last summer on the day a selectively mute boy started speaking.
The Y’s SLP at Hughes Elementary, funded by multiple sources, was launched in 2013 in collaboration with prior principal Kevin Keegan. Hughes’ teachers recommend students to the program based on their academic needs. In 2015, the average SLP student went up almost one reading level (.8) and about one quarter of the students went up 2-6 reading levels.
“The YMCA of Silicon Valley is becoming a significant part of the solution to summer learning loss in our community,” wrote Central YMCA Executive Director Barbara Cardenas in an email.
“We are very proud of the work we are doing collaborating with Santa Clara Unified School District to help our community with food sustainability through our breakfast and lunch program during the summer, while closing the achievement gap in a safe environment,” wrote Elisa Perez, YMCA After School, Teen and Summer Achievement Program Director (firstname.lastname@example.org). “We believe these services are the building blocks to success year round.”
For details on the Y’s summer food for kids and teens program, visit www.ymca.net/summer-food-program. Visit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties website (www.shfb.org/getfood) or call 1-800-984-3663 for additional sources of summer–also year-round–food for children and adults.