School's Out Washington Programs
Feed Your Brain
The Feed Your Brain project, a partnership between SOWA, Children's Alliance and Page Ahead, addresses the issues of summer learning loss and summertime hunger. The overarching goal of Feed Your Brain is to increase the number of children and youth in high-poverty, rural areas of Washington State who participate in literacy focused academic and enrichment activities and receive at least two nutritious meals through the federally subsidized Summer Feeding Service Program. Rural schools, community-based organizations or tribes may receive a Feed Your Brain capacity building grant and trainings/technical assistance to operate high-quality summer programs for children and youth.
We serve approximately 1,000 children and youth every summer through Feed Your Brain. Over the past few years, we have observed that our Feed Your Brain grant is the “make or break” as to whether a summer program can operate in several communities. We anticipate the same pattern in the coming years as communities continue to feel the repercussions of a declining economy and budget cuts at all levels.
Refugee School Impact Grant (RSIG)
Through RSIG, SOWA works to support local school systems impacted by significant numbers of refugee children and youth. RSIG is focused on these two goals: (1) To ensure refugee students’ high academic performance and successful school integration; and (2) To strengthen the skills, knowledge, and competence of parents, schools and community-based organizations for the benefit of refugee students. Based on ORR’s data for new refugee children ages 5-18 for 2008-2011, Washington is ranked eighth highest with a cumulative total of 2,411 children.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
This past year, School’s Out Washington facilitated the process of surveying providers and partners in the education, workforce development and other sectors around the future direction for the afterschool and youth development field. Through focus groups, workgroup sessions, and a statewide survey, a set of recommendations along with statewide strategies to implement across the field emerged. The 2013 Afterschool and Youth Development State Action Plan provides a 3-5 year map for the AYD field to move forward efforts to position quality AYD programs as a strategy to close the opportunity gap and to prepare kids for success in life, school, and career. SOWA will be working with partners to prioritize and implement strategies and positively impact youth.
One area that SOWA has a history of addressing and where current need is everpresent is supporting summer learning and nutrition programs. In many areas of Washington State, limited opportunities exist for youth to engage in summer learning opportunities. Especially in rural, high-poverty areas of Washington, with limited transportation and resources available, many young people are left without any summer program options during the summer months. No summer program may also mean limited access to free summer meals that take the place of free/reduced price lunch during the school year.
The Feed Your Brain project fills this gap providing over 1,000 children and youth annually with access to literacy focused enrichment activities and free, nutritious meals. Evaluation data shows that approximately 95% of Feed Your Brain participants either maintain or improve their reading skill level over the course of the summer program. In partnership with Page Ahead, each participating child receives free, new books and this coming summer, selected programs will receive technical assistance around developing engaging literacy focused lesson plans.
With the downturn in the economy and budget cuts, summer programs are often the last funded and first cut. Feed Your Brain provides much needed resources and support to rural communities. While communities struggle with fundraising to support their summer program, SOWA also experience the same struggles with sustaining Feed Your Brain project funding. We continue to seek funding to sustain the program and focus more efforts on not only increasing access but also improving the quality of summer programs for youth.