Special Blog Post By: Sue Kim, VISTA Coordinator of School Breakfast & Out-of-School Time Meals

“Summer Meals Spotlight” is a short series that highlights the work of community partners providing free, nutritious meals to kids in the summer.

Third grade reading proficiency is a well-established predictor of high school graduation and career success, yet 50 percent of children in San Mateo County struggle to reach this important milestone.

The Big Lift initiative, described as a “bold social venture that aims to transform early learning,” is committed to improving educational outcomes for low-income children in San Mateo County by providing high-quality learning experiences from preschool to third grade. Specifically, The Big Lift seeks to boost reading proficiency among children in San Mateo County to more than 80 percent. Towards that end, The Big Lift focuses on four key program elements: High quality preschool, summer enrichment, family engagement and school attendance.

The Big Lift Inspiring Summers (BLIS) Program is a full-day, five-week program designed to provide enriching learning opportunities and end summer learning loss. Nearly 1500 students, or BLIS scholars, are being served across seven partner school districts in San Mateo County: Cabrillo Unified School District, Jefferson Elementary School District, La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, Ravenswood City School District, Redwood City School District, San Bruno Park School District and South San Francisco Unified School District.

The BLIS program not only seeks to boost students’ academic and social skills, but also ensures that scholars are ready to learn by providing breakfast and lunch for all students. Through a partnership with Second Harvest, The Big Lift also provides snacks for all students.

We got the chance to speak with Kennelyn Celeste, Partnership Program Lead for The Big Lift and Principal at Los Cerritos Elementary, to get the inside scoop about The Big Lift.

What is The Big Lift?

The Big Lift is a county endeavor that brings different partners to the table to ensure that all kids can engage in summer learning. As part of this effort, The Big Lift Inspiring Summers Program provides fun and enriching summer learning experiences for students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a national program, provides programming in the morning, which is followed by hands-on enrichment in the afternoon.

Can you describe the population in San Mateo County that The Big Lift serves?

100 percent of families come from households that are below the median income in San Mateo County. There’s also a high population of low-income students who come from various ethnic backgrounds, many of these students are English language learners.

What is something unique about the BLIS Program?

There are smaller class sizes, so there is more attention on the students. We have a smaller student to teacher ratio: There are no more than 20 students to one teacher and instructional aide. Small group instruction allows us to focus on project-based learning on topics such as science, technology, art, and mathematics.

What role does good nutrition play in preventing summer learning loss?

Being a principal, I know the importance of early learning and the negative impact when kids are hungry. A lot of research shows that when kids are fed, they’re more ready to learn. The Big Lift collaborated with school districts, San Mateo County Libraries and Second Harvest to make sure kids had access to nutritious meals. Because many students we serve come from low-income families, we provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks so they don’t have to worry about it. We also made it a point to make sure all items were whole grain, low in salt and sugar, as well as low in fat.

Breakfast, lunch and two snacks are provided every day to BLIS scholars.

How would you describe the impact of The BLIS Program?

The BLIS Program is making a collective impact in making sure kids expand their summer learning opportunities. I’m proud of how South San Francisco and other Big Lift communities have served so many students during the past couple of years alone; it is really something amazing. The teachers inspire the scholars, but perhaps more importantly, the scholars inspire the teachers – these kids truly are the inspiration for us to serve the needs of our community and county.

**To see other posts in the Summer Meals Spotlight series, click here.