Local schools and after school programs join forces to “accelerate” learning this summer

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Bold Goals Academy
Bold Goals Academy students and teachers at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham on July 7, 2021. Photo via United Way

This summer, the United Way of Central Alabama and partner agencies—such as the YMCA of Greater Birmingham, A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club, and Boys and Girls Club of Central Alabama—launched an innovative educational program called the Bold Goals Academy. It’s purpose? To help students “catch-up” by accelerating their learning, both academically and socially, to make up for the deficits caused by the COVID-19 school shutdowns.

Launched in June 2021, this pilot program proved to be a huge success, with more than 250 students participating in the initiative at nine Birmingham City Schools and one Jefferson County school. Now, the project is poised to expand citywide and beyond.

Here is why this is a game-changer for our students and their families in our community.

Unfinished Learning – A Desperate Need

Bold Goals
Bold Goals Academy students and teachers at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham on July 7, 2021. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

Alabama’s State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eric Mackey has called it “unfinished learning.” 

That’s the term he uses to describe the negative impact on students and their educational system as a result of the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Dr. Mackey predicts we will be confronting this issue for the next 5-10 years.

Recognizing students may have experienced a learning loss spanning four to 12 months, the United Way leaped into action this spring, doing what it does best—getting people throughout our community to work together. In fact, the United Way Bold Goals Coalition challenged its 200+ members to devise creative ways to solve this crisis.

“It is critical that families, school districts, out-of-school providers, and social service organizations find new ways to work together to accelerate student learning and create pathways to academic success,” said Ryan Parker, Vice President of the Bold Goals Coalition. “A lot of kids over the past year have been in and out of school or learning virtually. To get them caught up and learning at the level they need, it will take additional support.”

How the Program Worked

Bold Goals Academy
Bold Goals Academy students and teachers at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham on July 7, 2021. Photo via United Way

So, how does the Bold Goals Academy work? Right out of the gate, the United Way built strong partnerships among schools, out-of-school program providers and social service organizations to put students on a path to a brighter future.

Then, they launched an intensive academic program that targets and reaches students who need additional support.

The Academy did this by incorporating the following elements into the pilot program:

  • Schools were chosen in coordination with school districts based on academic proficiency data.
  • Programs adhered to state standards and were designed in coordination with school standards. They also tailored the program to the needs of individual students.
  • Financial assistance was offered to ensure that program cost was not a barrier to participating students.

How It worked on the Ground

Bold Goals
Bold Goals Academy students and teachers at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham on July 7, 2021. Photo via United Way

Tamara Burney, Vice Principal of Oliver Elementary School told us that once the United Way and the  A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club chose her school, they asked her to identify rising fourth and fifth grade students capable of receiving additional math and reading instruction throughout the day. 

The Academy and the Boys and Girls Club then implemented a curriculum at the ten schools.

“The Boys and Girls Club concentrated on reading and math for about two hours throughout the day, but they also provided social activities,” said Burney. “The children needed that. It was something they missed during a pandemic that was so crucial for them. You see, they were sitting at home isolated with their parents, and the only thing they could do was communicate through telephone or Face Time. Being back in the building with their peers, learning and doing those enrichment activities was really awesome.”

Bold Goals
Bold Goals Academy at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham on July 7, 2021. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

After such a difficult year, socially and academically enriching the lives of her fourth and fifth graders are the key ingredients in the secret sauce of Burney’s and Oliver Elementary’s efforts to help their children “catch up.”

“I think that the social time that they provided was very beneficial,” added Burney.

Devin Posey, Operations Director, at A.G Gaston Boys and Girls Club saw the students progress firsthand.

“The key is more than just academics. It’s about character and socialization. We saw the kids  progress. We’ve seen their skills improve from the “pre” and “post” tests.”

Next Up

Bold Goals
Bold Goals Academy students and teachers at Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham on July 7, 2021. Photo via Pat Byington for Bham Now

In the coming months, the United Way intends to grow the Bold Goals Academy to include all 5 counties within the Central Alabama region.

“We’d like to expand it to other Birmingham City Schools, to other county schools, to other districts. We want to build closer partnerships with other out-of-school providers who have great curriculums that are able to get kids to learn different subjects. In partnership with school districts and out-of-school providers, we want to make these programs more available and more accessible for kids to help them academically,” concluded United Way’s Ryan Parker.

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  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.