In 2010, United Way of Santa Barbara County undertook a major effort to find out what Santa Barbarans felt were the most pressing issues facing the community. It became clear that citizens from all walks of life were deeply concerned about the state of our educational system and eager to improve it.
To serve this need, we launched the United for Literacy Initiative with the simple but lofty goal of increasing the number of kids in Santa Barbara County reading at or above grade level by 50% over a 10 year period. In order to achieve that, we searched far and wide for the best tools available to support and accelerate the development of literacy.
We were fortunate to find innovative, software-based tools that provided dramatic results. Because the computer can track each student individually—monitoring their progress and adjusting lessons to focus on just what they need to practice—everyone can advance at their own pace, and learners move on to new material only when they are truly ready.
The United for Literacy Initiative exceeded expectations, with many students assessed at below grade level advancing in reading by two or more grade levels in the span of a few months. Veteran educators told us this sort of improvement was all but unheard of. Building on this success, we incorporated powerful software tools that advance reading and math skills into Fun in the Sun—our well established local summer learning program.
Word spread, and we found ourselves fielding requests from parents who had witnessed the value of the program but whose kids’ schools did not offer access to it. Reflecting on our commitment to serve the entire community, we realized it was time to launch a standalone learning center available to all local students—one that would offer individualized instruction to every child, overseen by a credentialed school teacher. Thus, the United Learning Center was born .