Posts Tagged ‘ipc’

SAIL Partnership awards more than $675,000 in grants to prevent summer learning loss

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Thanks to SAIL (Summer Adventures in Learning), a partnership of ten area funders, 32 grants totaling more than $675,000 have been awarded to programs that provide summer learning opportunities for children. The nonprofit organizations receiving grants this year include schools, learning centers, camps and churches. The grants are used to support programs that enhance or add rigorous academic components that help prevent learning loss, offer chances to explore new interests and skills and close the achievement gap for low-income children.

National studies have shown that students typically return to school one to three months behind where they were at the end of the previous school year. But, according to the results of assessment testing coordinated by PARCA, participants in the 2013 Summer Adventures in Learning programs advanced more than a month on average. Some programs helped students jump three to four months ahead.

“We were definitely pleased to see that these summer learning programs are closing the learning gap for low-income children,”said Jim Wooten, executive director of the Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation. “SAIL is a unique collaboration of funders, program hosts, educational services providers and other organizations with an interest in education. The funders write checks, but we do much more, and all the SAIL partners collaborate to strengthen one another and to give our children the opportunity for a better life.”

In 2012 six area funders collaborated in SAIL to award 16 grants totaling $455,000, this year four new funders have joined in the partnership. The SAIL partners for 2014 grant cycle are: Alabama Power Foundation, The Belk Foundation, The Caring Foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation,  Joseph S. Bruno Charitable Foundation, The Junior League of Birmingham, Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation and United Way of Central Alabama.

Organizations receiving grants for 2014 summer programs are:

A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club

American Baseball Foundation, Inc (in partnership with the Jefferson County Board of Education)

Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

Better Basics

Birmingham Zoo, Inc.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Alabama

Breakthrough Birmingham

Cahaba River Society

Cornerstone Schools of Alabama

Summer Advantage USA (in partnership with the Bessemer Board of Education)

Summer Advantage USA (in partnership with the Birmingham Board of Education)

Fresh Start Family Solutions

Girls Incorporated of Central Alabama

Camp Shiloh (GSBC Community Development)

Higher Achievement Summer School

Household of Faith Church, Inc

Impact Alabama: A Student Service Initiative

IMPACT Family Counseling

Independent Presbyterian Church

Jones Valley Teaching Farm

New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church Community Support Corporation

NorthStar Youth Ministries

Norwood Resource Center

Public Affairs Council of Alabama (PARCA)

YMCA of Greater Birmingham (three branches)

Sixth Avenue Baptist Church Summer Camp

Tarrant City Schools

The Learning Village

YWCA Central Alabama

Zion Spring Baptist Church

About SAIL: Summer Adventures in Learning developed as part of an action plan to respond to a survey of 37 Birmingham area summer programs, conducted by the National Summer Learning Association in 2011. Through this important partnership, funders committed to use a joint application process for nonprofit organizations wishing to receive grant support to enhance or add consistent academic components to summer youth programs.  Awarding grants through SAIL are Alabama Power Foundation, The Belk Foundation, The Caring Foundation of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Joseph S. Bruno Charitable Foundation, The Junior League of Birmingham, Mike & Gillian Goodrich Foundation, Independent Presbyterian Church Foundation and United Way of Central Alabama

The Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL) Partnership focuses on summer programs where students can explore new interests and skills and gain the support they need to prevent summer learning loss. Data show that summer learning loss accounts for nearly two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading. They also shows that the effects of participation in a summer learning program can benefit the child for at least two years afterwards. Local experience in Birmingham has shown average gains of at least two months in reading and math during a five to six week program, making a significant positive difference for these children.

For More Information Contact:

Jim Wooten, IPC Foundation


How to end poverty? Teach second graders to read.

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

We talk a lot about reciprocal, relationship-based service as a way to increase educational attainment and fight poverty. Our Higher Education Alliance does this through service-learning with local schools, our faith partners do it through relationship-based ministry, and our community partners do it through community service and volunteerism.

For our Alabama Possible Spotlight this week, we’re focusing on a literacy program in Birmingham providing one-on-one tutoring to help second graders read at grade level. It’s a great example of how mentoring and community service can combine elements of relational ministry, community engagement and best practices from the education world.

Evelyn Puckett, STAIR IPC site director, with Anna James, STAIR executive director

The STAIR (Start the Adventure in Reading) program, based at Independent Presbyterian Church in Highland Park, Birmingham, pairs two adult mentors with one student during their second grade year. Each mentor commits to working one afternoon a week with the students who attend Birmingham city schools.

IPC has hosted the program for 11 years, and STAIR has now expanded to 5 sites serving 6 elementary schools. Partners include 45th Street Baptist Church, Avondale United Methodist Church, and Greater New Antioch Baptist Church. The program is not religiously focused, but program director Anna James says churches make good sites because “they have a good pool of volunteers and great facilities.”

Why second grade? “Second graders are so open-hearted, affectionate, and curious, and second grade is really their last chance to master reading,” says Evelyn Puckett, STAIR site director. “These kids come to us having tested below grade level, and our goal is to get them reading at least at grade level by the end of the year.” If they don’t catch up by second grade, third grade will be a big challenge because “all of the material is taught from the book from that point on.”

STAIR identifies students in partnership with literacy tutors at each school who test the kids at the beginning of the year. They accept students starting with the ones who need the most help until all slots are filled.

The program: When I visited on a Wednesday afternoon, the site was hosting 23 students from Gibson elementary school. (IPC also hosts students from Whatley on Tuesday and Thursday).

Kids arrive at the church at 3 pm on an IPC bus. They start off their afternoon relaxing with a healthy snack, usually a sandwich and a piece of fruit. “Some of our kids have been at school since 7:15 am, so it’s really a long day for them,” says Evelyn. She always makes sure the snacks are healthy, so the kids stay energized and alert.

Reciting a poem, ringing the bell: Before they can go meet their tutors, retired educator Lewana Robinson leads them in reciting the Langston Hughes poem, Dreams: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” One student precedes the others into the hallway, ringing a triangle to signal the start of classes.

Tutors range in age from high school students to senior citizens. They include a variety of working and retired professionals, from surgeons to musicians to teachers. As they congregate in the hallway, kids catapult themselves forward for hugs and enthusiastic greetings.

“Our tutors are so talented,” says Evelyn. “The ones who don’t have teaching talent have storytelling talents and other strengths.” She is careful to pair more experienced tutors with newer recruits, so that each student is working with at least one tested teacher for one lesson a week.

“One-on-one attention is great for the kids’ self esteem,” says Evelyn. “And it works. We can show it on standardized tests. Our volunteers can see that we’re making a difference – and it’s fun!”

Each classroom holds four student-teacher pairs to maximize personal attention. Some choose to sit on the floor, like high school student Adelaide with her charge, Meliza. Others read aloud in groups, like this classroom, led by retired second grade teacher Susan Fulton.

Later, Susan works individually with her student, leading him in a personalized lesson on phonics and vocabulary. All program materials come from the STAIR national program, which was founded in New Orleans.

Evelyn told me she was initially surprised by the number of retired teachers who were involved with the program – wouldn’t they be tired of teaching? – but Susan says it’s no surprise to her. “This is really a teacher’s dream, to be able to work one-on-one with a student.”

Lewana says the kids form strong bonds with their mentors, and it’s important for them to be a constant presence in the kids’ lives. “We’re character builders. We strengthen them,” she says. “Some of them start the year all shy – and even some of the tutors are shy at first! But once they break the ice, it all works out.”

Evelyn points out one student who made a drawing of herself, which she labeled “Kenesha is beautiful.” She loves to see students becoming more expressive and gaining self-confidence.

The results are compelling: In 2009, STAIR tracked reading improvement rates of 96%.

Evelyn tells me about a troubled student who had to repeat the second grade. He was initially kept out of STAIR because school officials thought his behavior would be too disruptive. But after a few months of tutoring, “He completely transformed!” His teacher called to say that “his attitude is great, he’s participating, he’s making good grades.” By the end of the year, his reading score had doubled.

“It’s the one-on-one attention, 4 hours a week, that really makes a difference,” Evelyn says.

The groups end the afternoon relaxing, reading, and playing games together.

What is possible: Evelyn was interested to hear about APP’s goal of ending poverty and reflected on how her own program was a part of that.

“I know that ending poverty is such a big goal it sounds like a joke – and maybe the poor will always be with us after all – but when you see children in our program double their reading test scores, and when see children blossoming, they are just so happy…” Evelyn trails off, smiling.

It’s clear that she believes in the mission. She is helping to achieve it, one student at a time.

What can you do?

Posted by Robyn Hyden

Give, and you shall receive

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

As we celebrate this special time of year, we spend a lot of time thinking about what presents to give the folks on our Christmas and Hanukkah lists.

But sometimes the best present you can give is yourself. As the Gospel of Luke says, “Give, and you shall receive.”

Alabama’s faith community lives by this every day. You give of yourselves by volunteering at food banks and organizing food pantries, staffing home repair and shelter ministries and participating in educational and mentoring programs.

The most successful of these anti-poverty efforts build relationships to address the short- and long-term causes of poverty. Relationships are a powerful tool to assist individuals in developing the support, resources and social capital they need to build economic security.

One great example of a relational ministry is Children’s Fresh Air Farm (pictured above), from Birmingham’s Independent Presbyterian Church. It is just one of many faith-based ministries fighting poverty that we’re connecting through our Alabama Possible campaign and our Faith Partnership.

We’re also building our faith partnership by providing resources, research and educational events to serve communities of faith around the state.

How did we help faith communities fight poverty in 2010?

We are so grateful for your help and support. Individual and faith donors have given almost $23,000 this year to support these and other programs! However, as the year draws to a close we still have a budget shortfall of over $3,000. Can you give?

Your tax-deductible gift will enable us to continue our work mobilizing Alabamians to eliminate poverty through our Faith Partnership and other programs. - Make a Donation to our 2010 Year-End Fundraiser

Track our fundraising progress at

Children’s Fresh Air Farm: “These kids deserve this.”

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Perhaps nothing makes me more nostalgic for my childhood than memories of summers filled with library books, adventures in the great outdoors, and summer camp. Yet many kids in our society never get to experience these privileges. And what about kids who don’t even have a safe place to play outside or enough food to eat? How do they fill their summer vacation?

Last Tuesday, I was fortunate to meet Gini Williams, the director of the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, a ministry of Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC). She gave me a tour of their summer kids’ academic camp in Bluff Park. The camp serves 34 rising second graders from Whatley and Gibson elementaries who participated in IPC’s STAIR Literacy Program. Campers receive rigorous academic instruction, enrichment activities – and breakfast and lunch – all funded and supported by the church congregation.

Building relationships with those they serve

Campers formed relationships with church members during the school year as participants in their literacy tutoring program, and church members wanted to ensure the students stayed up-to-speed throughout the summer. IPC partnered with the BELL Accelerated Summer Learning Program to design a curriculum that would cover reading, writing, and math, while leaving time for fun activities and recreation in the afternoons.

The church provides daily transportation to the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, a sprawling site tucked away in Bluff Park. It was founded in the 1920s as an overnight camp to get children out of the polluted city air at a time when Birmingham was dominated by the steel industry, and the camp is still an idyllic retreat from the surrounding urban and suburban sprawl.

Responding to community needs

Fresh Air Farm has always been a place where inner-city children from high-poverty areas can experience fresh air and open spaces in a fun camp atmosphere. Over the years, however, the needs of the communities they serve have changed, and IPC listened and responded to those needs.

With summer vacation shrinking, fewer kids were able to commit to sleep-away camps for weeks at a time. Plus, it became clear that many children could benefit from rigorous academic enrichment to bring them up to grade level. IPC found that a day camp could better serve their campers – and so far, it has been a smashing success. 34 of 40 families who were invited to participate enrolled for the 5 week camp, which lasts from 8 to 4:30, Monday through Friday. There was no cost for any family to participate.

Rigorous instruction

Their new learning camp features a morning of academic classes focused on reading, writing and mathematics, taught by licensed, professional teachers. Each classroom is headed by two instructors, so students get extensive one-on-one contact with their teachers. Afternoons feature enrichment activities including music, dance, drama, art, science, Spanish lessons (to bridge cultural divides with Latino students), recreational activities, Christian-focused bible study, and worship in the chapel.

“I’m so excited about all the partnerships we’ve formed this year with community organizations,” says Gini. They host a science teacher from the McWane Science center each week, as well as a gardener from Jones Valley Urban Farm. A church member who is a professional tennis instructor gives the kids tennis lessons, while other church members offer swimming and soccer instruction. Numerous other congregants who have talents and knowledge to offer interact with the kids on a regular basis, while literacy tutors make sure to maintain relationships with their former students.

Every Friday they bring speakers in to talk with the children or take field trips to sites around Birmingham, including the Birmingham Museum of Art, the McWane Science Center, the Civil Rights Institute, and Jones Valley Urban Farms. They recently registered campers for library cards from the Avondale public library; each camper will receive a “License to Read” full of incentives to get involved with innovative library programming.

A place of their own

The camp’s main office is a converted residential space, which offers a homey atmosphere where kids can curl up with books in comfy, overstuffed chairs during afternoon break time. The auxiliary buildings offer all the fixtures of a summer sleep-away camp – bunk cabins, a cafeteria, a pool, a basketball court, a playground, and even a zipline!

“This is such an amazing space,” I said, surveying a huge open lawn surrounded by ancient shade trees, the extensive recreational space, and the walls of books and artwork in the main house. Gini agreed with me, and added “This facility on par with the kind of camp that only affluent kids could normally afford.”

“And these kids deserve this. They deserve all of this.” Gini pauses before going on. “They really deserve better than what they’re getting.”

Eating, growing, and digging in the dirt

In the garden behind the house, the kids tend individual plots growing tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and other plants. Jones Valley Urban Farm’s Seed to Plate program educates campers about growing food and eating healthy. “These kids have never seen cauliflower before,” Gini said to me. “One of our girls called it ‘white broccoli.’ It’s so exciting to teach them new things.”

Children often don’t eat fresh foods at home, and some of the kids may not even have much to eat after after they leave camp at 4:30. Campers get a full breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack Monday through Friday. “We notice the ones who go back for seconds and thirds at lunch. We try to make sure they get plenty to eat.” During a recent cook out, she remembers, “Some of the girls ate 3 or 4 hamburgers… you have to wonder what they’re getting to eat at home.”

Modeling behavior

“Many of the kids have discipline problems. Anger is a big issue.” As camp director, Gini deals with behavioral problems in a firm but loving way. I noticed character building lessons integrated throughout the camp. They teach the kids to “bless those who curse you” and to show love to their neighbors. One Bible verse reads: A fool gives vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control (Proverbs 29:11).

But Gini tells me she has witnessed kids’ behavior transform in their weeks at camp. “During their first week here, many kids were saying things like ‘I’m going to shoot you’ or ‘I’m going to kill you’ to each other. Now I see them acting more like children – they’re carefree. They’re so sweet! They see the way our teachers and our youth volunteers act, and they are always hugging and loving on us.

“One child asked me ‘Why are you so nice to me?’ At first I didn’t understand the question.” Gini knows that some kids come from some difficult home environments.

“I don’t want to be corny,” Gini laughs, but “I want this to be a safe space. Every child deserves that.” In their classrooms, children collect stickers for good behavior. “I think a lot of kids are used to getting yelled at in the classroom. We use a lot of positive reinforcement here.”

Engaging environments

Each day, once camper gets a “Scholar of the Day” award to recognize excellence in the classroom. “You would not believe how excited they are to be get this award. It’s just like they won Mr. or Miss USA!”

Gini also goes out of her way to integrate lessons from the classroom into other camp activities. “I try to make every part of this camp interactive. For example, if I hear a teacher or Bible study leader use a word the kids don’t know, I will make it a vocabulary lesson. We have this ‘Cow Word Bank.’ I told the kids that Cow only knows one word – ‘Moo.’ We have to teach Cow new words. It helps the kids remember.”

Recently, Cow learned the word “College.” “It’s really never too early to get them thinking about it!” says Gini.

Campers’ swimsuits hang to dry in the pool house. Former campers decorated the walls

Sustaining relationships, expanding impact

Gini hopes the camp will be able to double its capacity next year, bringing this year’s campers back while accepting a new group of rising 2nd graders. “This is our pilot year. We just don’t know how big this could get, but we have great hopes for the future.” She is also committed to measuring the effectiveness of the camp with standardized tests to show student progress. “I want to know that this is a good thing that is really helping them. I don’t want to just say it is a good thing for them just because I feel like it might be.”

Program participants completed a nationally normed test to assess reading and math abilities before starting camp, and they will re-test again at the end of camp. This will help IPC and Bell evaluate their programming and adjust if needed. That said, Gini knows that the camp is making a difference. “I think the camp is great for the kids, with or without the added value of rigorous academic enrichment. We’re exposing them to new things. We’re building relationships. We’re showing them that we love them.” And Gini notes, “We are all blessed by this too.”

Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling these kids are going to be better prepared when they go back to school next month. The church is investing their time, energy, and money into this program, and the rewards are manifold. Who can put a price on that?

Do you know of a community partnership or ministry that we could feature? Please let us know what’s happening in your community! Email to share your stories.

Posted by Robyn Hyden