The UCSB Gevirtz Research Center wants to prove that students learn more outside of the classroom.

The research center was recently awarded a $600,000 grant by the Whittier/Godric Family Foundation to develop an innovative and informal education program, The Youth Enrichment Adventure, focused on sixth, seventh and eighth-graders throughout the Santa Barbara School District. The three-year project will be centered in Elings Park, a private park off Las Positas Road dedicated to promoting educational experiences, and the money will be used to hire teachers, a project coordinator and graduate students collecting data on the curriculum materials.

The Youth Enrichment Adventure Program plans to integrate subjects ranging from math to language with the theme of environmental education. Students will go on frequent field trips to a variety of community areas, such as the Natural History Museum and botanical gardens, to achieve a hands-on learning experience.

“We want to take the program out of the classrooms altogether,” Associate Professor of Education Mary Brenner said, “and instead use the many kinds of educational resources offered by organizations throughout the Santa Barbara area.”

The program is open to all middle school students in the Santa Barbara Community, and enrollment will be done on a first-come, first-serve basis. Sixty kids will be able to attend this summer’s program and the coordinators are hoping to include 60 more children each summer for the next two years.

Various community agencies, such as the Channel Islands National Park and the Marine Science Institute, are working with the research center on the program.

“We are doing research with these agencies to test whether or not this program will make a difference and be effective in the education of young children,” Youth Enrichment Adventure Program Project Director Lois Phillips said. “If we do find that this program has positive effects on the kids when going back to school, we are hoping that this center can be a model for creating more educational programs in other communities as well.”

The Youth Enrichment program was created by extending a summer school program that UCSB ran from 1998-2000 called the Gevirtz Summer Academy, a learning program that took place in four different elementary schools and included multiple field trips.

“We’re hoping for several things to come out of this project,” Brenner said. “We hope that after our initial funding is over, that there will be funding for this program to continue independent of UCSB. We hope to show that this type of learning experience actively involves children during their summer vacation, increases their academic attainment, and increases their motivation to enter fields such as science and technology.”

The research center also received a one-year planning grant for $63,883 from the Santa Barbara Country Children and Families Commission for the creation of a new community learning center for children up to age five, to be located in Elings Park.

Community members and UCSB graduate students and faculty have been involved in planning for the center since last July. The center still needs approvals from the city to obtain permits, and participants are in the process of raising money. Santa Barbara City College students are also being trained in early childcare and education to work at the center once it is finished.

“We have been making recommendations in the designs and programs for Elings Park, but it’s still in the early stages of being built and will take up to two to three years to build the facility,” Gevirtz Research Center Director Vishna Herrity said. “Once the building is constructed, there will be a child development program, but until then, we will be visiting other preschool programs to see what the best practices are so that we can recommend it to the center.”

Once the center is built, the initial recommendation is that it should be divided equally between underrepresented kids, Santa Barbara City College students who have young children, and the community at large.

“We want to make sure there’s an opportunity for underrepresented families as much as any other family,” Herrity said. “We are partnering with Santa Barbara City College students enrolled in the professional child development program, and we want their kids to be able to attend this program as well. We are hoping to provide children with developmentally appropriate activities and educational childcare through the use of stimulating activities.”