Alta Vista’s Eagle Academy summer program has increased and improved since its start in 2012, and Barbara Shirley, the principal, predicted another successful summer at today’s Sarasota County School Board workshop.
The summer education program, for entering kindergarten to third grade students, aims to reduce the loss of learning and loss of learning retention during the summer months, especially for low-income families. In its first year, the program had 62 students in entering kindergarten participate; every year since, the program has added a grade and now predict 350 students this summer.
According to the presentation, a child from a middle-income family outdistances a child from a low-income family in learning retention over the summer months, creating a large learning gap between the two, as the middle-income child usually has more access to learning opportunities.
The Eagle Academy program uses a holistic approach to summer education, and works to include the entire family in the process, including frequent one-on-one meetings and mental health support through a social worker, Shirley said.
“We’re seeing our students better prepared for school and no summer learning loss,” Shirley said.
The school also engages parents in personal and professional growth with a class once a week for the duration of their child’s 7-week program, “Parent University.” These classes teach parenting skills and relationship strengthening skills, and offer adult education programs such as English as a second language, certified nursing assistant, administrative assistant and precision machinists programs.
The student program provides free breakfast and lunch to students, access to the food pantry and a weekly dinner for the students and their families. Shirley said the first night the school hosted the family dinner, 600 parents and children attended.
“It’s changed the culture of our schools,” Shirley said.
Eagle Academy and Parent University are almost entirely funded by private individuals, community organizations and in-kind services from the school district.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” School Board member Shirley Brown said. “If I had my way—and money—we’d be doing this in all of our Title I schools.”
Barbara Shirley said that about 80% of the students in the eligible classes are participating in the summer program. She said she was hoping to be able to expand the program to other schools next summer; she’s already investigating the possibility of Tuttle, Gocio and Emma E. Booker elementary schools adapting the program to fit each school’s needs.
Mary Kay Henson attended the school board meeting to support Alta Vista’s presentation; she and her husband, Joe, have been a major donor to the program. She said she got involved when she read in the newspaper that students weren’t graduating from high school, and they wanted to do something to help.
“Every year the program gets bigger… it’s exciting, inspiring,” Henson said.