United Way of Santa Barbara County’s FITS and ELSI Programs Kick Off to Address Pandemic-Related Learning Loss

Santa Barbara County, July 13, 2021 –  United Way of Santa Barbara County’s (UWSBC) Fun in the Sun (FITS) and Early Learning Success Institutes (ELSI) summer programs have launched to address pandemic-related learning loss for Santa Barbara County’s most financially and academically at-risk students and their families. Both of these programs are managed in direct partnership with school districts to help improve the academic results of students across the County.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students across the globe face learning loss not experienced in modern history. The stakes are especially high for students in their elementary school years. If these students are unable to close the learning gap, they face substantial future difficulty graduating high school.

To help ensure that students have extra support in regaining lost skills, UWSBC has significantly adapted and expanded its summer and early education programs and partnerships through FITS and ELSI.

“As students transition back to in-person and hybrid learning this fall, our summer programs are more important than ever before,” said Steve Ortiz, President & CEO of UWSBC. “Without additional learning support, local children throughout Santa Barbara County will struggle with the effects of the pandemic’s school closures for years to come.”

About Fun in the Sun (FITS)

Since 1997, UWSBC has provided FITS, an award-winning summer learning collaborative program involving 80 service delivery partners, 20+ funding partners, and over 600 volunteers. Originally designed to address summer learning loss, FITS has been crucial to help students regain academic and social skills lost during prolonged school closures.

FITS serves a total of 350 children (grades 3-12) and 250 parents from low-resource neighborhoods at six sites (Carpinteria, Goleta, Guadalupe, 2 Santa Barbara sites, and Santa Ynez).

During the program’s seven-hour daily, six week session, students participate in daily structured rotations of academic activities, including literacy (through individualized, online reading programs); Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) activities; service-learning; character/values-based curriculum; and physical activities. During afternoons, students engage in enrichment activities, like financial literacy, cooking/nutrition, and educational field trips. Client parents also receive their own specialized Parent Empowerment workshops.

The program, which launched on June 21st, incorporates additional program components that have been added to the FITS 2021 program, including:

  1. A robust mindfulness program called Inner Explorer, yoga, and a partnership with Inner Warrior that develops mindfulness, self-defense and self-advocacy skills. 
  2. Expanded bicycling program in partnership with Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. Students at all sites will stay active with weekly bike lessons. They will also learn basic bike maintenance and problem-solving skills. 
  3. Outdoor walking field trips with Nature Track. Students will go on hikes with nature educators to learn about local ecosystems in their neighborhood. 
  4. Additional social/emotional support for students and families. Family Service Agency will support FITS staff with behavior management and difficult situations that may arise. Hospice of Santa Barbara will train FITS staff to create safe, supportive spaces that are conducive to healing and the mindfulness activities that are planned throughout the summer. Hospice of Santa Barbara will also meet weekly with FITS’s Counselors in Training to provide our teens with ongoing social emotional support and guidance.  
  5. FITS is working with Explore Ecology and One Cool Earth to implement a gardening program at every site. FITS participants will learn more about gardening and food sustainability and will have the opportunity to revitalize neglected school gardens.  

Assistant Site Coordinator of the Solvang FITS site, Gloria Sevilla shared, “Students at our site have learned to ride bikes for the first time! Some have even gone back home and requested to have their training wheels taken off their bikes at home.” She also noted how enthusiastic students and parents have been to return to camp and make new friendships. 

To learn more about FITS, please visit www.unitedwaysb.org/fits

About Early Learning Success Institutes (ELSI)

Distance learning has caused particularly significant disruptions in the learning and social emotional development of young students in grades K-2 who have had little, if any, previous in-person learning. To help address this pandemic-related learning loss, United Way has coordinated with school districts to expand its formerly primarily kindergarten-readiness focused programming to address the learning needs of even more of our county’s youngest students through the Early Learning Success Institutes (ELSI). For the first time, ELSI will serve students in grades K-2 beginning summer 2021 at Carpinteria Unified School District, Hope Elementary School District, Goleta Union School District, College School District, as well as Franklin and Harding Elementary Schools from Santa Barbara Unified School District.

At each site, a certified teacher and instructional aide will work with small groups of students to help them learn basic skills (i.e., sharing, numbers, colors, letters, early literacy, etc.). Teaching is individualized to address each student’s particular presenting needs. ELSI sites use rotational models that allow students to work in smaller groups with more individualized attention. Classroom sizes are being adjusted to comply with CDC guidelines.

To help students maximize their progress, ELSI will expand its services this year and will operate in tandem with the United Learning Center, United Way’s tutoring center. ELSI students will participate in small group tutoring sessions with United Way instructors to work on personalized lesson plans. In addition, students will practice and develop social-emotional skills and mindfulness to better cope with lingering stress due to school closures.

To learn more, please visit: https://www.unitedwaysb.org/ELSI.

About United Way of Santa Barbara County 

Since 1923, United Way of Santa Barbara County (UWSBC) has been a key leader in local efforts to empower children, families, and communities through its own unique collaborative programs and initiatives, partnership convening efforts, volunteer development, and funding. UWSBC’s mission is to enrich the lives of children and families and build resilient communities by leading local programs and partnerships that improve school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery. To learn more, please visit unitedwaysb.org.

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