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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

Summer Dreamers Academy One Of Four Summer Learning Programs To Win National Award

Summer Dreamers Academy

Pittsburgh Public Schools Summer Dreamers Academy is one of four programs in the U.S. to win the 2015 New York Life Excellence in Summer Learning Award. Given by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), the awards aim to highlight best practices in educational summer programs.

“Research suggests that high quality summer learning programs can really make an impact socially, emotionally and academically in the lives of low-income students,” said Dara Murray, manager of program quality with NSLA.

Many kids aren’t fond of the dreaded words “summer school,” but without summer programs, many experience what’s known as summer learning loss.

“We know that summer learning loss has been shown to contribute up to two-thirds of the achievement gap that we see between students in low-income households and their middle-income peers by the time they get to ninth grade,” said Christine Cray, director of student services reforms with Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The awards have been given out for the last 11 years, but Murray said they aren’t just about recognition.

“Our goal with the award is not just to support these programs by giving them a monetary award, but also to hold them up as exemplary programs in the field, so that others might learn from their best practices,” Murray said.

The no-cost Summer Dreamers Academy is in its sixth year. Cray said it’s a fun and fast-moving program and something that keeps kids wanting to attend every day.

“We aim to take the benefits of a traditional summer school program, all the learning kids would get, and all the fun of a summer camp experience and merge it all together into 27 wonderful days of fun and learning for kids,” Cray said.

Some of the activities offered through community partners include golfing, judo, swimming, dance, science, community service and ceramics. Cray said the program has worked with the NSLA to develop and improve programming, but she said that didn’t mean the award was a “gimme.”

“We’ve applied for the past three years and always made it to the final stage, but this is the year we finally made the cut,” she said.

About 90 programs applied for consideration in the awards. Winners are chosen through application materials, phone interviews and site visits. Other 2015 winners are: Rochester City School District (NY), Project Transformation (Dallas, TX), and the Chicago Public Library.