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The Dwight Stuart Youth Fund has awarded The Learning Alliance a $15,000 grant to help fund Literacy on the Lagoon.

The Dwight Stuart Youth Fund is a charitable trust founded in 2000 by Dwight Stuart, Senior. He believed that every child should have access to quality education programs and was specifically committed in helping those who are most underserved and underprivileged. The fund's philosophy promotes a healthy and vibrant educational system as the root of a prosperous society – economically, socially and collectively.

The fund’s mission aligns with The Learning Alliance's (TLA) mission for all children to read on grade-level by the end of the third grade. TLA's purpose is to improve literacy outcomes by the end of the third grade and create literate, compassionate, creative citizens who will improve our world.

Today, only 37 percent of all third-graders nationally and 56 percent locally are reading on grade level. The Literacy on the Lagoon program is one of the tools TLA uses to help close the literacy gap. Up until third-grade, students learn to read; thereafter, they read to learn. A student who is behind after third grade, only has a one in six chance of catching up.

These struggling children fall further behind over the summer when they don't have access to quality literature and instruction. To stop the summer slide or loss of learning, TLA, in conjunction with the School District of Indian River County and the Environmental Learning Center, has developed a literacy-rich, summer learning program with the Indian River Lagoon at the center.

Students spend two days per week at the Environmental Learning Center fully engaged in environmental topics and are back in the classroom for three days each week with specially trained classroom teachers who provide quality experiences for the students to further their understanding of the hands-on work they did out in the field.

“We're very grateful for the generous and continued support from the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund,” said Kjestine Bijur, TLA board member. “We are now motivated to work very hard and continue to justify their confidence in us!”

The combination of an outdoor, summer-camp-like format combined with classroom learning is a winning combination, according to Bijur. “The summer camp opens up a world of new experiences and new vocabulary to the children who participate. The teachers reinforce all that learning in the classroom, and it brings what they're learning to life for the kids.”

“It's fun. The children get to go out in canoes and wander around in the lagoon. They get to see snakes, birds, dolphins and other creatures,” adds Bijur.

“It is real hands-on learning with two days a week of field trips out to the Environmental Learning Center and three days in school to absorb this very integrated, enriched literacy curriculum. We thank the Dwight Stuart Youth Foundation and Kjestine and Peter Bijur for their leadership in supporting this program,” noted Barbara Hammond, TLA CEO and co-founder.

Literacy on the Lagoon participants have shown significant gains in general vocabulary acquisition. A diagnostic assessment showed that students in the program did not have a summer slide in vocabulary, compared to their peers who lost over two months of learning. Growth in comprehension, social-emotional, content knowledge, and information acquisition, indicated improvements in literacy comprehension skills.

“We're thankful for our funders for Literacy on the Lagoon. This program is an amazing relationship with the school district, Sebastian and Treasure Coast Elementary Schools, The Environmental Learning Center and The Learning Alliance,” said Hammond.