BIRMINGHAM — Gov. Kay Ivey and education leaders are stressing the importance of expanding summer learning throughout the state on Wednesday as educators seek to help students recover from learning loss sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ivey on Wednesday toured a program that is funded by the Summer Adventures in Learning, or SAIL, program which helps pair community organizations with schools to create high-quality summer learning programs.
Jim Wooten, chair of SAIL, said on Wednesday that SAIL aims to reimagine what summer school can look like. He said easily 75 percent of Alabama students could benefit from summer learning.
“We believe that community-based summer learning is something we need throughout the state in every community,” Wooten said.
There are currently 57 SAIL programs in Alabama that have enrolled 8,234 students with an average of 2,050 annually. Many of the programs are located around Birmingham but some programs are also located in the Black Belt and in northern Alabama.
The programs are designed to combine elements of traditional schooling and summer camps and blend them in a way so that students are having fun while learning important skills.
According to data collected by SAIL, students enrolled in their programs gained 2.6 months in reading and 1.7 months in math.
Ivey toured the Birmingham Summer Institute on Wednesday which teaches rising 3rd graders through 8th graders in a six-week summer program that lasts all day. The program tackles subjects like reading, math and social-emotional learning skills.
“SAIL is a model for data-driven instruction and the key is for data to drive instruction, to ensure that students are making great gains in learning during the summer months,” Ivey said. “Partnering with community groups is also a real asset. YMCAs do good summer learning, as well as schools. You merge those two together and all our students can achieve a lot of progress during the summer months.”
The visit coincided with National Summer Learning Week as well as Alabama’s own Summer Learning Week that Ivey declared to be July 12-16.
Investments in summer learning are about to increase dramatically in Alabama as a result of the $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds coming into the state for K-12 schools.
Alabama’s K-12 schools have about $2.02 billion coming in from the American Rescue Plan Act that schools will be able to spend over the next three years.
A majority of those funds will go straight to local districts, with a mandatory 20 percent of the funds being spent on addressing learning loss through summer learning, enrichment programs, extended-day or extended-year programs and after-school programs.
Mark Dixon, president of A+ Education Partnership, said he hopes school districts spend more than the mandatory amount on summer learning programs and build innovative programs for their district’s specific needs.
“We want them to do more than just provide a partial day and more than what you get during the school year. We want students engaged and there has to be an enrichment component that makes it fun and engaging because this is all optional for students,” Dixon told Alabama Daily News.
SAIL receives its funding through philanthropic giving and had more than 40 funders providing $3.75 million from 2017-2020.
Wooten said the federal stimulus dollars are a welcome source of funding but since they have to be spent by 2024, he would like to see the state continue to invest in summer learning once those dollars are spent.
“And some of those funds don’t have to just go to schools but also to the communities themselves because it’s the power of community that we really need to unleash here,” Wooten told ADN. “When you bring the resources from the faith-based community and the nonprofits and municipal government, they are all spending money on summer so let’s spend it together and wisely so that we really move our kids forward.”
Funding isn’t the only barrier to expanding summer learning in the state.
“There is an outdated mindset among parents that summer is for fun and the rest of the year is for learning and that’s no longer the case,” Wooten said. “If your kid is behind you’ve got to use out of school time to catch them up.”