United Way of Santa Barbara County’s (UWSBC) annual Fun in the Sun (FITS) summer learning program served over 350 children and 250 parents at six locations this summer throughout the Santa Barbara area from June 21st through July 30th. Locations included Carpinteria, Santa Barbara-Eastside, Santa Barbara-Westside, Goleta, Santa Ynez, and a brand new Guadalupe site which launched in 2021 to serve North County students. The free six week program addressed summer learning loss, COVID-19 learning and social skill loss through academic and social emotional programming.
FITS is Santa Barbara County’s oldest and largest public/private partnership dedicated to long-term educational improvement in the lives of low-income children and families. FITS included its core literacy and Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) activities as in previous years. FITS’s customized reading improvement tools provide flexible, highly individualized instruction to help students master necessary skills no matter their current reading ability.
STEAM instruction included previous favorites, including STEAM lessons through the Math 4 Love curriculum with kits and manipulatives, owl pellet dissection, mural art with a local artist, performing arts curriculum, and more.
Due to the pandemic’s toll on students’ mental and physical wellness, additional program components were added to the FITS 2021 program, including:
- A robust mindfulness program called Inner Explorer that has been used in the Goleta Union School District (GUSD). Additional activities included yoga, and a partnership with Inner Warrior that develops mindfulness, self-defense and self-advocacy skills.
- Additional social/emotional support for students and families. Family Service Agency visited the sites weekly to support FITS staff with behavior management and difficult situations. Hospice of Santa Barbara trained FITS staff to create safe, supportive spaces that are conducive to healing and the program’s mindfulness activities. Hospice also met weekly with FITS’s Counselors in Training to provide our teens with ongoing social emotional support and guidance.
- Expanded bicycling program in partnership with Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. Students at all sites stayed active with weekly bike lessons. In alignment with the STEAM curriculum, students also practiced basic bike maintenance and problem-solving skills.
- Outdoor walking field trips locally where appropriate. With Nature Track, students went on hikes with nature educators to learn about local ecosystems in their neighborhood.
- FITS worked with Explore Ecology and One Cool Earth to implement a gardening program at every site. FITS participants learned about gardening and food sustainability and revitalized neglected school gardens.
Fighting Back Santa Maria and the Scholarship Foundation also provided parent workshops via Zoom for all parents. Parents also had access to the Inner Explorer mindfulness curriculum which allowed parents to log in to see which mindfulness activities their child completed at FITS and gave parents access to practice mindfulness activities at home as a family. UWSBC also forged new partnerships with various yoga instructors to augment the mindfulness program.
Preliminary survey results showed that after Fun in the Sun:
- 60% of participants reported that reading was easier for them.
- 66% of participants reported that they understood what they read better.
- 89% of participants reported that they feel more excited when they think about their future education and career.
- 82% of participants reported that they care more about learning and look forward to returning to school.
- 88% of participants reported that they get along better with others who may talk, look, or act differently than them.
“United Way is committed to continuously improving FITS in order to deliver a world-class program,” said Steve Ortiz, President and CEO of UWSBC. “FITS’s outstanding results would not be possible without the help and support of many individuals and organizations. Thanks to your support and that of others, this program will continue to grow in quality and scope for local children and families.”
In 2022, United Way expects to offer an in-person Fun in the Sun program at its six sites again. United Way is already developing expanded service delivery partnerships to meet the needs of participating children and families next summer. For more information about Fun in the Sun, please visit www.unitedwaysb.org/fits.
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.