This summer — a time when kids forget what they learned in school — a group of concerned adults has a plan to stem the tide of learning loss in Birmingham.
The collaborative Summer Adventures In Learning (SAIL) is awarding money to 19 summer programs aiming to include more academic focus and help make sure kids remember their lessons between school years.
SAIL is motivated by a National Summer Learning Association survey that found 37 summer programs in Birmingham lacked adequate academic components. That same survey shows that two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in students’ reading level is due to summer learning loss.
In 2012, six local organizations joined forces to create SAIL: the Belk Foundation, Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation, Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and United Way of Central Alabama.
Summer learning loss may affect all students, but low-income students are most at risk. Disadvantaged students, those from lower-income families, typically do not have access to the same academic means as students whose parents have money – especially over the summer. But there is great interest in Birmingham to remedy this disparity. SAIL has received $900,000 in requested grants for local programs.
The 19 organizations slated to receive SAIL support vary in focus — some are athletic, others religious, still others primarily academic — including the American Baseball Foundation, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Birmingham YMCA and Tarrant City Schools.
SAIL not only provided the means to improve the 19 summer programs but also created a network for increased communication between the program leaders. “This summer many of these organizations participated in a variety of activities like an enrichment fair,” says Carol Butler, executive director of the Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation. “Leaders met and learned about new resources and discussed potential issues and solutions for Birmingham’s summer programs.”
Individually, the organizations have used the grant money to become more targeted, organized and effective. The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama offered its resources to become a common evaluation system used by most of the organizations. This program allows the 19 organizations to monitor student progress throughout the year. Periodic updates assist the programs in remodeling their activities for participants.
Breakthrough Birmingham is one of the newest organizations that received funding from SAIL. The program focuses on high-achieving, underserved students, or those who perform well in school but do not always have access to sufficient education opportunities. “Breakthrough Birmingham focuses on students that are at more of a disadvantage than their peers in terms of dropping out of high school, graduating high school and attending a four-year college,” explains Jared Weinstein, who worked with the Community Foundation to bring the Breakthrough program to Birmingham.
Sydney Urquhart is one of the 35 participants in the program and is a rising seventh grader at Parker High School. “I joined Breakthrough Birmingham because I felt like I was learning in school, but I wasn’t learning enough,” she explains. “Breakthrough Birmingham has taught me skills I can use year around like time management and persistence.” In this way, the impact of summer programs can benefit students for two years or more, according to the National Summer Learning Association.
The A. G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club also received funding from SAIL. “When I examined our program, I saw we didn’t have an initiative to target brain drain during the summer,” explains Frank Adams, president and chief professional officer of the A. G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club. The funding from SAIL allowed new academic projects to be added to daily activities. For example, one day children practiced math skills by making salsa with various measurements of the ingredients. “If we invest in our youth and target them with programs that matter, we can turn the numbers around,” Adams says. “This initiative is needed for the families of our community.”
Urban Ministry used the money to hone in their program to target third through fifth graders for maximum results. “We were able to think of the structure of our program and the students we bring in,” explains Robyn Hyden, director of development and communications at Urban Ministry. “The first summer we received funding, in 2012, our students came in at 15 percent math proficiency of their grade level and left at the end on the summer at 20 percent. Similarly, their reading comprehension jumped from 50 percent to 70 percent.”
Already looking ahead, SAIL is busy constructing next year’s list of donors. Applications are currently being accepted for programs that would like to receive funding next summer. There are no specific requirements for organizations requesting grants. Grants are awarded with the hope of improving already existing summer programs.
“SAIL is not trying to recreate summer school,” Carol Butler says. “We want to have academics but still have maintain the fun part of summer.”
Applications are now available for organizations to receive a grant in summer 2014 and will be accepted through October 1, 2013. Visit www.foundationbirmingham.org for more information about the grants process.