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Nearly $1 million awarded to SAIL Alabama summer learning programs

HUNTSVILLE – Nearly one million dollars in grant funding was announced Thursday for area summer learning programs.

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

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

“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; is tailored to the child’s interests; and addresses the needs of the whole child.

The Summer Adventures in Learning program or SAIL helps three local school systems to confront learning loss during summer months. The Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville works with The Schools Foundation to fund this outreach.

In recent years, SAIL has been available to all active English Learner students in Madison City Schools to enhance academics while preventing summer slide. Last summer in other subjects, students cumulatively gained 1.8 months in reading and three months in math. “Most importantly, we prevented the summer slide for hundreds of students across Madison County,” Fleming said.

In the summer of 2020, SAIL supported 34 programs statewide. Fourteen 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+ 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.

“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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