CFSC, Donors Provide Educational Opportunities for Two Generations at Alta Vista
The Community Foundation of Sarasota County has partnered with donors and other nonprofits to provide educational opportunities and potential for future economic stability to the children and families of the Alta Vista community. This summer, children entering kindergarten and first grade at Alta Vista Elementary School will participate in a seven-week program, called the “Eagle Academy,” and 15 single mothers will take a course to earn their Certified Nursing Assistant certificate, all funded by generous local donors.
A few facts about Alta Vista Elementary School: 94% of the students are on free or reduced lunch; 49% of the students live in a single-parent household; 39 students are homeless, including 13 who live in a shelter; and in 30% of the students’ homes, a language other than English is the primary language.
The Alta Vista Eagle Academy is a fully funded program designed to address two main areas:
- The Readiness Gap: many children from low-income families begin school already far behind. Research shows these children are less likely to be read to or spoken to regularly or to have access to books, literacy-rich environments, high-quality early care, and pre-kindergarten programs.
- Summer Learning Loss: many children lose ground over the summer months. Without access to the enriching activities available to more affluent peers, research shows that children from low-income families lose as much as three months of reading comprehension skills over the summer. By the end of fifth grade, they are nearly three grade levels behind their peers.
The program includes bus transportation, breakfast, lunch, and academics until 1:30pm; then counselors from the Sarasota Y provide after school care, which is designed to support the learning that took place during the day. The after-school program runs until 6:00pm.
Participation in the Eagle Academy also requires parents to take part in weekly sessions of “Parent University,” which focuses on strengthening parenting skills; enhancing knowledge of academic, social and emotional development in children; promoting successful student achievement through parent involvement; money management; and providing adult education courses.
"By connecting with parents and providing adult educational opportunities, we have a much better probability of making a difference for the students," said Dr. Barbara Shirley, principal of Alta Vista Elementary School.
After each Parent University session, the Sarasota Rotary Club and All Faiths Food Bank will provide a food pantry so families will have access to nutritious foods and hygiene products.
Last year, pre-kindergarten students at Alta Vista participated in the first year of this initiative in the “Eaglet Academy”; the program was five weeks long and enabled the students to be better prepared to enter school. This program was funded through the generosity of Mary Kay and Joe Henson, who now have a fund at the Community Foundation and are continuing their support of the Eagle Academy – with their donation of $75,000 being fully matched by the Community Foundation.
Inspired by the “two-generational approach” championed by Ascend of the Aspen Institute, the Community Foundation has focused attention on providing economic assistance and educational opportunities for parents of Alta Vista students. This summer Red Cross has been secured to offer CNA training on-site at Alta Vista for single mothers with children participating in the Eagle Academy, at no charge to the participants. Those who successfully earn their certificate will graduate (along with their children) on August 1 and many are expected to be offered jobs during a job fair to be held at that time.
"The concept of a ‘Two Generations One Future’ learning approach is very exciting,” said Dr. Shirley. “I feel strongly that providing educational and career opportunities to help both single mothers and their children will begin to break the cycle of poverty that impacts so many families in our community."
John Annis, Vice President of Community Investment at the Community Foundation, reports that other donors excited about the Alta Vista project have stepped forward to inquire about offering additional educational opportunities for Alta Vista parents, including cosmetology, welding and culinary arts. Local philanthropists Bob and Willa Bernhard have provided $15,000 to offer opportunities for single fathers; the Morton family (Morton’s Market) will be offering support for culinary arts scholarships; and opportunities for trade skills will be offered at SCTI.
All donations to the Alta Vista Elementary School Fund will be matched by an anonymous local donor, up to $350,000. To learn how you can support the efforts at Alta Vista, please call the Community Foundation at 941.955.3000.