Birmingham Schools, United Way and local colleges team up to offer innovative tutorial program


United Way
United Way of Central Alabama CEO Drew Langloh meets with Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Mark Sullivan at the “high dose” tutorial program launch on January 10, 2022. (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

Earlier this week, Birmingham City Schools, the United Way of Central Alabama and six local colleges launched a new “high-dose” tutorial program to help address COVID-19 related learning loss due to school closures during the pandemic.  

Beginning January 19th, over 100 students from UAB, Miles College, Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, Jefferson State Community College and Lawson State Community College will work with Birmingham students in key academic areas. On January 10th, at United Way headquarters,  Birmingham school principals got to meet for the first time  the tutors assigned to their schools. 

Devastating Learning Loss

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

“We looked at our data from last year, and the data wasn’t good,” said Mark Sullivan, Superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. We had a significant number of students that had learning loss prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic has put gasoline on that problem.”

As reported in Bham Now back in July 2021, 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.

The numbers are bleak in Birmingham and across the state. About 40% of Birmingham students score among the lowest levels in reading, while about 70% score poorly in mathematics, according to Sullivan.

“We wanted to find a way to provide additional support for our students,” added Sullivan. “We’ve done summer programs, extended the school day and provided additional tools. That’s why we reached out to United Way. They are a well established group that supports this kind of effort. They are champions of this work. As a result, we are now able to have a tutor at all of our schools to work with our students.”

3 Benefits of the Program

United Way
Birmingham City School Principals and administrators meet tutors assigned to their school at the United Way on January 10, 2022. (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

The innovative tutorial program offers benefits for both Birmingham students and the college-age tutors. 

They include:

  • Much needed academic support for Birmingham students that will help them catch up academically. 
  • Lead by example — the students can relate to the tutors. Many of them haven’t thought about going to college. Tutors can inspire them to take that path.
  • The program may inspire the tutors to become a teacher.

Making a Positive Impact Within Birmingham City Schools

“This is a really innovative opportunity for students who are in college, who are interested in making a big impact in the lives of students within Birmingham City Schools,” said Sara Newell with United Way of Central Alabama. “This is also a great opportunity for colleges that are interested in exposing students to careers in education —learning what it’s like to teach and what an exciting and fulfilling career it is.”

Birmingham’s local colleges are “all in.”

Cindy Shackleford, Chair and Program Coordinator for the Child Development Program at Jefferson State Community College has already enlisted 20 students from her campus. 

“I can personally testify that this program makes a huge difference. When I was 19 years of age, I actually did in-house tutoring for Oliver Elementary School in Birmingham while I was a student in college majoring in education. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to meet all the gaps that are present right now with our students K through 12.”

Shackleford’s personal goal is to enlist 100+ Jefferson State students to participate in the program.

An Opportunity

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

Strong partnerships will be the key ingredient to making the new tutoring program successful, said Superintendent Sullivan. 

“We see this as an opportunity on so many levels and we’re just proud of the work that our academic team has done, and proud of this partnership with United Way.”

Want to learn more about the Birmingham City Schools Tutoring Partnership program and how you can participate? Contact the United Way of Central Alabama at

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Pat Byington
Pat Byington

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.

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