While Birmingham is full of different summer activities for kids, many do not continue a student’s education as much as they should, said Suzy Harris, program manager for Summer Adventures In Learning (SAIL).
SAIL is a collaborative group that aims to help prevent in students what is called “summer learning loss.”
“Summer learning loss is really important,” she said. “We hear a lot of parents say things like, ‘They shouldn’t have to go to school in the summer,’ but summer learning loss is really a thing. It means that if their kids have struggled to learn something during the school year, and then they don’t have that practice during the summer, that means when they go back to school they have to struggle to relearn that when they could have maybe continued on and advanced further.”
Research shows that two-thirds of the achievement gap in ninth graders can be attributed to summer learning loss. “If I lose a couple of months [of learning] every summer, then by the time I’m in ninth grade I’ve lost a couple of grades’ worth of information,” Harris explained.
The programs deal primarily with students in third through fifth grade because they are “really key years,” she said. “If you’re not reading on grade level by the end of third grade you are much less likely to graduate from high school … and not reading at a third grade level by third grade really affects your math by eighth grade, because once you get to that higher-level math where words are so much a part of it, then that’s also a key thing.”
While SAIL’s 38 programs focus on reiterating academic lessons, the programs are designed to keep students engaged to help them avoid the necessity of going to summer school. “We encourage all of our programs to connect their curriculum to the school curriculum but to think differently about how they deliver it,” Harris said. “For example we have a program with the American Baseball Foundation, and what they did was they worked with UAB on their curriculum, and they have scheduled their day so that it’s all about sports.”
The particular program Harris spoke of alternates a 45-minute schedule between sports and academics to keep the students interested. Everything is sports-related. “All of their math relates to sports and all of the books they read relate to sports,” Harris said, noting that the students are divided into teams. “They work all summer with their team against other teams so there’s some competition, but they’re also trying to learn how to work together,” she said.
Harris said SAIL is responding to a need for “high quality and safe activities” and also aims to help students in non-academic areas. A lot of the programs also focus on social and emotional learning, encouraging children to “promote better social skills” and “expose them to new experiences.”
SAIL also helps promote overall physical health, which can also suffer during the summer. “During the summer, children who live in food-insecure homes, they may not have access to food,” Harris said. “So all of our programs are providing high-quality food. They also provide opportunities for recreation, because summer is also a time that a lot of children prone to obesity tend to gain weight at a [fast] rate. Our summer learning providers are also providing activities that encourage physical movement.”
All of the programs have their own fee structure and are voluntary, but Harris stresses the importance of daily attendance. “Attendance is really important in order to keep your skills growing in reading and math,” she said, adding that “each of our programs works with the parents to make sure the kids are showing up every day.“
Last year about 52 percent of the students SAIL worked with were from Birmingham city schools, and Harris said their second largest number was Jefferson County schools. “We want to find the kids who need it the most, kids who may not be from the highest socioeconomic levels,” she said.
“I hope that we can start finding more things for middle and high school level, because all activities for them kind of drop off in the summer, and they’re getting to that age where if they don’t have something to do, that can lead to trouble,” Harris said.
This summer Huntsville is joining SAIL and replicating the model to help even more students. Harris hopes that parents understand the importance of SAIL’s work. “Keeping kids learning in the summer is really important. And if you’re a part of that program then daily attendance is really important too. The kids aren’t going to learn if they’re not there,” she said.
SAIL is a program of the Birmingham Education Foundation, also known as ED. For more information visit, edbirmingham.org/sail-summer-adventures-in-learning.