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

Summer Dreamers Academy

Pittsburgh, United States
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.

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

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

5th Grade Camper

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.

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Innovation Overview
5 - 14
Age Group
20 000
1 053
Tips for implementation
Planning begins at the end of summer and runs through the start of the program at the end of June. Camp is a success due to our staff, enrichment providers, professional development, parent engagement, and access to facilities, food and transportation. Learning and fun is in all that we do!
Contact information

See this innovation in action

Working Alongside Youth
Acknowledging Student Work
Positive Spin - Bike Pittsburgh -Promoting Health & Wellness
Science in Action
ACM in Practice
All Camp Meeting (ACM) Planning
Pittsburgh - Wallace Foundation Summer Learning
Transforming the Classroom


Achievements & Awards


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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Create a summer planning timeline
Generate a summer planning timeline to stay on top of major tasks and continuously track your progress.
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Develop a summer budget
Develop a budget that identifies expenses vs revenue sources
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Identify and recruit community partners
Determine which community organizations you want to partner with.
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Hire and train summer staff
Develop a thoughtful hiring process and professional development plan leading to summer success.
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Recruit your campers
Identify which students in your district you are trying to help.
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Curriculum check-In
Each summer we review and enhance our curriculum to ensure it as aligned to student needs.
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