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BELL-powered programs helped nearly 1,400 K-8 Alabama students prevent summer learning loss and improve school preparedness

A new partnership with school districts in Birmingham, Baldwin County, Tuscaloosa City and Tarrant City more than doubled the number of Alabama K-8 students set up for success due to their participation in BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) powered summer programs designed to prevent summer learning loss and improve school preparedness for highest-need students.

BELL is a national nonprofit that empowers school districts and community-based organizations through best practice tools, strategies, and real-time support so they can deliver high-quality out-of-school-time (OST) programs to improve the academic achievements, self-confidence and life trajectories of highest need PK-8 students.

The evidence-based summer learning program provided students, known as scholars, with a holistic learning experience that blends rigorous literacy and math instruction with hands-on enrichment, social-emotional learning, and community engagement. Highlights of BELL summer programs in Alabama included STEM and cooking enrichment activities, as well as a field trip to see the Blue Angels perform. The Tuscaloosa program also enjoyed regular visits from honorary scholar Libby, a former Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter dog during reading time.

“Our experience with BELL was amazing and we look forward to many more. It is what our teachers want and what our students need,” says Tuscaloosa School Superintendent Dr. Mike Daria, Ed.D “We are re-imagining summer learning in the Tuscaloosa City Schools as rich and engaging learning experiences for our students. Summer learning is key to our system and community as one of the greatest equity strategies we have in our strategic plan to prevent the summer learning loss and ensure academic excellence for all students.”

Nearly 1,400 Alabama K-8 grade scholars benefited from BELL Summer, delivered in partnership with the local school districts, Scholastic, and local YMCA associations through the Power Scholars Academy (PSA) program created out of BELL’s partnership with YMCA. The school district based program served 741 scholars and the Y partnership programs served 650 scholars for a total of 1,391 scholars served this summer. This growth represents a 173 percent increase since 2013, when 100 scholars were served in a pilot program. The school district programs in Birmingham and Baldwin County were delivered in collaboration with Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company.

“In the Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report, less than half of Pre-K–12 educators told us that most of their students start the school year academically prepared for grade-level work, which shows how crucial it is to build students’ learning skills during the summer,” said Michael Haggen, Chief Academic Officer, Scholastic Education. “We’re thrilled to work with BELL to make summer an opportunity to help students not only maintain the knowledge they gained during the school year, but also gain self-awareness through social-emotional learning.”

Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL) funders awarded grants of $170,000 to support 2018 BELL programs. “Success requires partners who share our commitment to ‘whole child’ growth, and who can consistently deliver good outcomes at a reasonable cost,” says SAIL Chairman Jim Wooten. “BELL has quickly become an excellent partner for SAIL. BELL has provided in-kind support to help us launch two new programs.”

Early 2018 evaluation results found 105 scholars who attended PSA at Birmingham Metropolitan YMCA gained an average of three months reading and 2 months of math skills. Post program surveys found 88 percent of teachers believe PSA improved their professional skills and 85 percent of parents became more engaged in their child’s education.

Evaluation results from 2017 show 581 PK-8 scholars enrolled in BELL-powered summer learning programs in Alabama gained an average of 1.5 months in literacy skills and one month in math skills. An estimated 93 percent of teachers reported that scholars increased their self-confidence and 97 percent of parents reported that scholars enjoyed their BELL Summer experience.

An estimated 7.5 million K-8 students from underserved communities across the U.S. are performing significantly below grade level, and up to two-thirds of the academic achievement gap is due to lack of access to summer learning programs.

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