BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - One summer enrichment program in Birmingham is making big strides in combating summer learning loss- and it’s part of a national, non-profit organization. Girls Incorporated of Central Alabama serves more than 9,000 Birmingham-area girls ages 6 to 18 with programs focusing on economic literacy, career preparedness and health and wellness. It’s funded by the United Way of Central Alabama and also by state grants and personal donations. The affiliate in Alabama receives their curriculum from the organization’s National Headquarters in New York City and it’s based on national evaluation research.
When you step into a classroom at the Crestwood Center, the first thing you notice is the “all female” population. And camp officials say that’s a major benefit for their campers.
“We have girls up to about 10th grade during the summer and I just think when you’re in a coed setting, it changes the dynamics of how the girls behave, how they learn because they don’t want to make mistakes because of fear of being ridiculed by the boys,” says Angela Eakins, Director of Program Operations for Girls Inc. of Central Alabama. “So here they learn early on that part of learning is making mistakes, but learning from that mistake and then going back and figuring out… if you were doing a science experiment or even a math problem, what did you do wrong, let’s go back and look at it and we’ll do it again and we help them figure out what went wrong.”
Not only does the camp go over basic academic subjects such as math and reading, they also offer extracurricular classes such as art, cooking and sewing. President and Chief Executive Officer, Monique Gardner-Witherspoon, says these classes ensure the girls are learning… even though they may not even realize it.
We do a lot to certainly just reinforce the skills, the areas of content that the schools provide but we just deliver it in a different way,” says Dr. Gardner-Witherspoon. “In the summer time we like to make it just a little bit more fun, so the girls don’t really realize that they’re getting it in the summertime, but they really are. The parents are very pleased that we continue to develop those skills so that when the time comes to matriculate back to school, the gap is not as wide so they can have a really good start at the beginning of the academic year.”
One specialized program that Girls Incorporated of Central Alabama offers during the summer time is their Eureka Camp— which is completely focused around what are known as STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The camp is right on UAB’s campus, and it gives 8th and 9th grade girls the opportunity to spend two full weeks participating in hands-on activities and projects.
“Last week the girls actually did a project called The Big Wheel and they were given a challenge to build a ferris wheel with only cardboard, pasta and glue and tape,” says Quiwintre Frye, Team Program Eureka! Coordinator. “And they had to mathematically scale their ferris wheel down from an actual ferris wheel size. And when they were building the ferris wheel, they actually needed to make it move.”
And camp officials say these experiments allow the girls to experience subjects they don’t normally learn much about.
STEM is really important for girls because when you look at the research, you don’t have girls present in fields such as engineering, science, technology,” says Shameka Forte, Eureka! Technology Instructor. “So this gives them exposure, hands-on, it’s fun. A lot of them, they don’t get this during the regular course of the school day because of the academic curriculum, especially in the state of Alabama since we focus on the graduation exams so much. So they get the exposure, they get to meet other students and they kind of get a feel for it and actually, they develop a fondness for it.
Another important aspect of the program is teaching girls life skills. Back at the Crestwood Center, campers are learning how to budget their monthly expenses.
“In the economic literacy classes, the girls are learning about money, budgeting, saving and investing,” says Eakins. “So there’s a wide variety range of programs that the girls participate in because we believe in developing the whole girl.”
And Dr. Gardner-Witherspoon says these different types of programs and classes reinforce the organization’s mission— empowering young girls to be strong, smart and bold.
“Providing them with the tools to be successful, providing opportunities for them to be more self-confident,” says Dr. Gardner-Witherspoon. “And to just otherwise, give them more opportunities to just be successful in the world in which we live in and so we contribute to that effort and that process.”
This summer, more than 200 girls in the Birmingham area were able to participate in the camp. And officials say they are able to see the positive impact this organization makes when the girls show them their first report cards in the fall.