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Summer Dreamers Academy

Combining the academic benefit of summer school with the fun of summer camp to reduce summer learning loss.

A no-cost, premier summer learning experience providing the academic benefit of summer school along with the fun of summer camp. Through a mix of high-quality, engaging instruction by certified teachers in the morning and enrichment experiences provided by community partners in the afternoon, students who regularly attend Summer Dreamers show significant improvement in literacy, math, and social-emotional skills.



HundrED has selected this innovation to

Pittsburgh, USA






March 2019
My favorite part about Summer Dreamers was meeting new people, my other friends, and my activities and classes.

About the innovation

How can summer learning be made just as effective as summer school and just as fun as summer camp?

Why the focus on summer? It’s simple. Research indicates that students, regardless of income, lose about two month’s worth of math skills during the summer months. This is only exacerbated by the fact that low-incomes students will also lose greater than two months of literacy content. When faced with this knowledge, Pittsburgh Public Schools Administration knew that we had to do something to address the issue. How would we ever eliminate the achievement gap (or opportunity gap) for our students, if we could not support them during a time when the gap was continuing to widen?

To mitigate summer learning loss and reinforce our belief that all children deserve access to high quality learning experiences year-round, Summer Dreamers Academy was born. First- by supporting those often forgotten middle grade students, but then expanding to address the K-8 pipeline.  

At Summer Dreamers, we do things a bit different than a traditional summer school. We want our campers to learn and try new things, meet new people, but most of all have fun!  

Each day, campers participate in 90-minute literacy block and 90-minute math block to support academic growth and combat summer learning loss. We know that Summer Dreamers campers achieve academic benefits equivalent to 20-25 percent of a year’s learning. To achieve these outcomes, morning activities are hands-on and engaging, combining both small and large group work, which is designed to meet the learning needs/style of each child. Each afternoon, campers participate in enrichment activities of their choice, which help them develop and follow their passions. Staff encourage campers to push themselves outside their comfort zone and try new things, whether that be participating in clay & mosaic making, dancing, coding, kayaking, biking, architecture design, theatre, etc. 

This no-cost-to-campers 27-day summer learning program focuses on much more than academics and enrichment activities. We maintain a strong focus on developing a positive and supportive culture for all our campers to ensure that they are equipped with the skills they need to succeed in college, career, and life. When it comes time to put pen to paper, we want the children in our community to thrive, not just survive.

We can’t do this work alone. It is our goal to work alongside our students, not solely on behalf of them. This means that our students are involved in various aspects of programming planning, such as the staff selection process and the selection of enrichment providers. We believe that our students are one of the best judges on how Summer Dreamers is and should be functioning. Through the Learn & Earn program, youth between the ages of 14-24 are able to work at camp as assistant camp coordinators. It is not uncommon to find that students who were once campers have come back to assist the program in a leadership capacity.  

While it started as a program focused on a small group of students, Summer Dreamers has grown into something much greater. Through providing academic intervention, access to enrichment activities, and leadership development and career opportunities for youth, we have created a unique space for students of any grade level to take ownership of their learning environment and to dream big.

Impact & scalability

Academy review results
High Impact
Low Scalability
High Impact
High Scalability
Low Impact
Low Scalability
Low Impact
High Scalability
Read more about our selection process

Implementation steps

Create a summer planning timeline
Along with The Wallace Foundation, Summer Dreamers contributed to the creation of a summer planning toolkit, which covers in greater detail the steps we outlined in this portfolio. Once your planning team has been identified, the first and most important step is setting up a planning timeline that identifies key activities, due dates, resources needed to accomplish tasks, and the person(s) responsible for accomplishing each task.
Develop a summer budget

In order to ensure a quality summer, it is important to prepare a budget for your summer program. Identify all potential cost, such as staffing, facilities, meals, transportation, enrichment activities, supplies, etc, as well as any sources of income. It is a best practice to confirm your budget and anticipated expenses in early fall prior to summer programming. This should provide ample time to apply to additional funding opportunities, in the event that your current revenue sources fall short of covering your expenses.

Identify and recruit community partners
Release a request for proposal (RFP) to community organizations. These organizations will be used for afternoon enrichment activities during the summer to complement the learning that takes places during the morning academic classes. To ensure that the activities are engaging and meet the needs of your campers, invite students to take part in the selection process.
Hire and train summer staff

To ensure a successful summer, we staff each campsite with a leadership team. The Camp Leadership Team (CLT) are responsible for developing the operational schedule and processes for their site, in line with the Summer Dreamers model. They are also heavily involved with the staffing of teacher and camp coordinator positions, and support our enrichment partners. Additionally, we recommend hiring certified teachers to ensure high quality academic instruction and outcomes for student .  

A major factor in summer success, is professional development for staff. The week prior to camp, we host several days of intensive professional development to ensure that staff are ready to deliver the summer curriculum and general program model with fidelity.
Recruit your campers

Set recruitment goals based on your budget and identify your target population. We focus on serving low-income K-8 students and students who are underperforming on standardized tests. Based on our budget, we maintain a 15:1 ratio equaling 30 campers in each room along with a teacher and camp coordinator. In addition to having an open enrollment process online, we ask our schools to assist in identifying those students who would be best served in our program. Their year-round knowledge of their students has been crucial in ensuring that we are serving the students most in need of our services. We are typically limited to serving 1,800 campers and will use a lottery system that prioritizes students meeting the criteria mentioned above, in case we have more students sign up than we can support. We encourage having giveaways and tabling at community events to raise awareness of the program.

Curriculum check-In

Summer Dreamers has worked with National Geographic and McGraw Hill materials as resources to enhance our summer curriculum. However, there are many curriculum resources available online for free or ones that can be purchased for a low cost. We also actively research additional vendors with support from Pittsburgh Public Schools curriculum team to complement our current work. Part of our camp leadership team structure includes curriculum coaches who support updates and revisions to the curriculum annually. Throughout the summer, teachers and curriculum coaches work together to ensure that the material is differentiated for campers. 

Most importantly, the curriculum we use is aligned to our desired outcomes. To track our outcomes, we discuss evaluation methods and strategies for progress monitoring prior to finalizing curriculum for the summer. 

Finalize resources
Prior to camp, we meet with all of the necessary parties to discuss coordination around transportation, facilities, and food services. We utilize district buildings to host our programs and provide students with both breakfast and lunch every day.  We also do our best to minimize barriers to attendance and access to our program by providing transportation within our districts guidelines. This means that transportation will be provided if campers are 1.5 miles or more from their summer camp site or if their route to camp is not walkable. 
Ensure your campers show up

In a study done with the support of the Wallace Foundation, the RAND Corporation found that students who regularly attended the Summer Dreamers Academy experienced significant academic benefits in English-Language Arts and Mathematics in comparison to their non-attending peers. To help ensure attendance, Summer Dreamers Academy utilizes incentives for campers who attend regularly, ranging from book bags with school supplies, free baseball tickets, to VIP lunches. Another way to ensure attendance is hosting family engagement events, such as a Night Out in which parents and kids can tour sites, meet staff, and get kids excited about camp. These are only a few of the strategies we implement from the attendance and retention plans that all sites create prior to summer. 

Evaluate the program

At the end of summer, we survey our campers, families, teaching staff, camp leadership team, and enrichment providers to identify the program's strengths as well as opportunities for growth. To ensure the process is accessible, we allow multiple methods for providing feedback, such as online or paper surveys and focus groups. This feedback should support the planning for future years to come. 

Additionally, we also refer back to our outcomes measures that were discussed during the development of our curriculum for the summer. 

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