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Bridge to education

The New Life Church in Kansas City’s Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood bustles with activity this summer as children diligently work on their reading skills and have fun.

The kids are enrolled in the Upper Room Summer Academic Camp at New Life Church. But if it wasn’t for a timely loan to support the program, none of it would be happening.

The building that the Upper Room uses at New Life was abandoned recently, but was quickly renovated in a joint effort by the church and the Upper Room as a way to host 150 children for the Summer Camp and an after-school program.

In 2012, Greater Kansas City LISC made its fifth consecutive annual loan to the Upper Room, an investment totaling more than $11.6 million. For New Life Church, the loan didn’t fund the renovation, but it helped keep the summer camp open—and it helped justify the cost of rehabbing the 30,000-square-foot space.

“Year after year, this bridge loan has allowed us to continue operations without interruption and help thousands of children learn to read and improve limited reading skills,” said Jerry McEvoy, executive director of the Upper Room.

Learning throughout the summer

The Upper Room’s eight-week Summer Academic Camp is available free of charge to elementary to middle-school students in low-income communities throughout Kansas City. The children strengthen their reading skills, improve academic retention and comprehension, and become school-ready.

Classes are held from early June to August. Reading and math are emphasized, with a focus on the Accelerated Reader program, and teacher and one-on-one tutoring. The reading program assesses reading skills before students enter the program and again at the summers end. The books read by each student are monitored daily and progress reports are provided to students, teachers, parents and staff.

The Summer Academic Camp also provides rewarding and fun activities for the students. In addition to participating in mentoring sessions in the afternoons, students have the opportunity to learn gymnastics or martial arts.

They can take classes in dance and art, including at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Students go swimming, take field trips and attend soccer camp; activities that are often out of reach for low-income families.

For example, approximately 225 Upper Room students this year attend the Eddie Baker School of Music, where they receive their own musical instrument and participate in a 30-minute weekly lesson. Many also attended ensemble lessons on Saturday mornings.

Making an impact

Improving access to quality education is one of five key goals of NeighborhoodsNOW, Greater Kansas City LISC’s comprehensive community program. As in many cities, having an impact on education is both incredibly important to improve a community and difficult to achieve.

The Kansas City, Missouri School District has been struggling with closures and accreditation. At the same time, research shows that low-income children have an especially difficult time retaining information over the summer that they learned during the school year.

A recent RAND Corporation study found that the average student from a high-poverty school suffers a two-month loss in their reading grade level over the summer.

Yet Upper Room students are able to beat these odds.

According to a 2007 study of the Upper Room Summer Academic Camp by Johns Hopkins University, the average student gained nearly a full academic year in reading in just eight weeks. The program has a 90 percent attendance rate during camp operations and a strong return rate among past students.

When the Upper Room was struggling to fund its operational needs in 2008, Greater Kansas City LISC stepped in and provided a $1.3 million bridge loan. The loan allowed the program to operate under reimbursement rules by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that require the Upper Room to first spend the money, then be compensated in the fall.

The LISC loan paid for program operations, including teacher salaries, site operational costs and program offerings for approximately 1,500 Kansas City, Mo., students. The financial support also allowed the Upper Room to proceed with a five-year expansion plan.

Greater Kansas City LISC has provided additional bridge loans each year since—this year’s is for just under $3.6 million, the largest yet. The Summer Academic Camp is on target to achieve its 2012 goal of serving more 3,500 students at 30 sites, many of which are new locations in Neigh­borhoodsNOW target areas.

“Continuing to improve access to quality education is a major goal of Greater Kansas City LISC and our flagship program known as NeighborhoodsNOW,” said Chris Vukas, senior program officer for lending and underwriting for Greater Kansas City LISC. “The Upper Room is an excellent example of our mission in action.”

Terri Mueller is the director of development and public relations for Greater Kansas City LISC.

Posted in Kansas City, Education & Early Learning

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