How one summer camp gets kids set for school

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It’s a hot summer morning and a group of about 20 kids gather in a bright classroom after an intense game of basketball in the playground. Today, they’re building their own traffic lights out of cardboard and paper cups. Last week, they used energy from lemons to power LED lights.

These kids are part of the United Way-funded Summer Achievement Gap program run by Ottawa’s Confederation Court Community House. Every day for six weeks over July and August, they take part in a unique approach to summer learning, which blends academics with other enrichment activities, like crafts and physical activity.

Ottawa is home to more 23,000 kids who live in poverty.

Many families do not have the means to send their kids to expensive summer camps that teach valuable life skills and provide enriching learning experiences. This can widen the gap in academic achievement between low-income and middle class students and increase the risk of summer learning loss.

A safe place to go

Thanks to United Way donors, the free Summer Achievement Gap program gives kids in low-income families the chance to remain engaged and increase their achievement over the summer months. As a result, they’re ready to pick up where they left off come September.

The program includes initiatives like STEAM, which incorporates aspects of art and science through different experiments. The children also take part in literacy activities thanks to weekly visits from Ottawa Public Library volunteers, while increasing their capacity for learning through physical activity.

“What’s really special is the bringing together of children, the building of new relationships, and the encouragement of learning,” says Tayra-Lee Miller, Summer Achievement Gap program coordinator at Confederation Court Community House. “We do everything in a fun and engaging way, so the children don’t necessarily realize it but they’re continuing to learn throughout the summer.”

A year-round need

Without access to affordable summer programs or after-school homework supports, recreational activities and social programs throughout the school year, youth in high-risk Ottawa neighbourhoods are more likely to drop out of school — continuing the cycle of poverty.

To help kids in Ottawa reach their full potential, United Way invests donations in programs and initiatives that prepare children for kindergarten and give them a safe place to go after school to play, learn, and just be a kid.

At United Way, we recognize the power of collective advocacy and collaborative community efforts. In 2007, we joined with the City of Ottawa and key community partners to bring forward the Child and Youth Agenda: a strategy to ensure the healthy development of children and youth in Ottawa.

Since then, we have continued to convene more than 80 community partners in the Ottawa Child and Youth Initiative, which drives public policy to create stronger neighbourhoods through the positive, healthy growth of kids in our city.

Since 2011, with the help of our donors and partners, United Way has invested $11.3 million in early-childhood education and critical hour initiatives like summer camps and after-school programs —putting 83,827 kids on the path to succeed in school and in life.

Help give Ottawa kids a safe place to go after school to play, learn and grow.
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Last week, we invested $2 million in 39 local programs that will support the people who are still struggling as the province begins to reopen. Read more about how we’re bolstering Indigenous and Black mental health, and fighting food insecurity, social isolation, learning loss and more.

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