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Nearly $1 million awarded to Alabama summer learning programs

SAIL facilitates a peer learning and funding network to ensure high-quality summer learning programs thrive.

Third graders participate in making a volcano at a SAIL summer program. (VIA SAIL)

Nearly one million dollars in grant funding was announced this week for summer learning programs in Birmingham, Huntsville and the Black Belt.

Formed in 2012 as a project of six Alabama-based philanthropies, Summer Adventures in Learning facilitates a peer learning and funding network to ensure high-quality summer learning programs thrive across the state. Today, SAIL operates in 15 Alabama counties, including the Birmingham, Black Belt, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville/Madison County areas.

SAIL announced that it is awarding 37 independent programs in the Birmingham area and the Black Belt region with $698,500. In the Huntsville/Madison County region, SAIL is providing an additional $200,000 to three partners operating programs at 14 sites throughout the region.

“We have always known the importance of intentionally academic summer programming, but it proved more critical than ever after schools closed in the spring of 2020,” said Elizabeth Dotts Fleming, the executive director of The Schools Foundation, which administers the SAIL network in Huntsville.  “One of the hallmarks of SAIL is its diverse delivery of programming, while following the Quality Assurance Framework.”

SAIL does not require its programs to follow a specific curriculum. This flexibility allows each site to design a summer learning program that meets students where they are academically, that is tailored to the child’s interests and addresses the needs of the whole child.

Two Alabama school systems are collaborating with SAIL to meet the Alabama Literacy Act’s summer reading requirements. One of those systems is Blount County Schools. It is using SAIL funding to offer summer reading camps for K-3 students who are behind in reading.

“State law requires school systems to offer summer reading camps, but leaves the implementation to each district,” said Mitchie Neel, the executive director of the Blount County Education Foundation. “We know from research that how you structure a summer learning program influences how much students will learn. Partnering with SAIL allows us to meet students where they are while nurturing the whole child and bringing them up to grade level.”

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In the summer of 2020, SAIL supported 34 programs. 14 provided in-person programs, 17 virtual and three offered an at-home curriculum. Due to COVID restrictions, enrollment was down from SAIL’s normal 2,500-plus students to 1,250.

In 2020, SAIL students gained an average of 2.3 months in reading and 1.6 months in math. Research shows that students from low-income families typically lose two-to-three months of reading and math skills every summer. SAIL’s gains are especially salient this year because the novel coronavirus is exacerbating academic losses for at-risk students. Eighty-four percent of students enrolled in 2020 qualified for free- and reduced-cost lunches.

In 2021, state education leaders are concerned that academic losses will be at the highest levels in years. SAIL grantees are preparing to increase their enrollment to pre-pandemic levels.

  • Click here for a list of programs receiving SAIL funding in Birmingham.
  • Click here for a list of programs receiving SAIL funding in Black Belt.
  • Click here for a list of programs receiving SAIL funding in Huntsville/Madison County.

“Last summer, our programs met our students where they were and provided them the supports they needed most,” said Fleming. “Today, SAIL sites are diligently planning for this summer with keen attention to serving students who need this fun yet intentionally academic catch up time the most. We are stronger when we work together, collaboratively, for our students, and we see that through SAIL.”

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