Building a Cycle of Opportunity, Two Generations at a Time
From left, Assistant Principal Dehea Smith and Principal Dr. Barbara Shirley of Alta Vista Elementary School with Anne Mosle during a recent site visit.
This summer, families at Sarasota’s Alta Vista Elementary School are benefiting from Eagle Academy, a seven-week two-generation enrichment program for children entering kindergarten and first grade that also includes mandatory weekly “Parent University” offerings and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training for single mothers seeking to improve their families’ financial stability. This program is being sponsored by donors and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
During the spring, when we began preparing for the two-generation Eagle Academy, the collaborative effort and vision of our school’s administration and professional staff, donors, and our nonprofit partners were surpassed only by the enthusiasm and energy exuded by our family participants. The dream of having all of our students reading on grade level – and their parents prepared for living-wage jobs – will soon become a reality and will make a difference in the lives of our Eagles.
At Alta Vista, 94 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch, 49 percent of the students live in a single-parent household, 39 students are homeless – including 13 who live in a shelter – and, in 30 percent of the students’ homes, a language other than English is the primary language. Our students are at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to their more affluent peers, a disadvantage borne out by test scores that indicate just over half of our students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.
On the first day of Eagle Academy, it was so exciting to feel the level of energy in the cafeteria, see the smiles of excitement on the faces of the children and their parents, watch the anticipation of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County staff members, and observe the media frenzy as they captured the first day of our summer program. Our mothers enrolled in the Certified Nursing Assistant training – wearing their nursing “whites” – displayed a blend of eagerness and anxiety as they released their children to our care and opened the doors to their classroom and to their future. Pride radiated throughout the school.
Each day, students enjoy a nutritious breakfast and lunch. The pre-kindergarten students are learning how to maneuver around the cafeteria, carry their trays of food, and follow directions, routines and procedures. In the classroom, students are learning core academic and social readiness skills that are so crucial to future success. We are giving our Eagles a chance of leveling the playing field with other children their age.
The parents are enjoying their classes, as well: while some mothers are enrolled in nurse assistant training, all parents benefit from weekly classes offered in English, money management, parenting skills, and more. There is tremendous social capital being built at Alta Vista as the parents get to know one another, realize their struggles are shared, and learn that they can rely on one another for support.
The children are excited about coming to school each day. Their smiles brighten the room and their hugs are full of joy as they acquire a passion for learning. It is heartening to see our Eagles’ progress and know they are proud of what they are accomplishing, as well.
We have learned from our partners at the Community Foundation that other donors, energized by the goings-on at Alta Vista, are stepping forward to fund other job training offerings, including scholarships for cosmetology, culinary arts, and precision machining. Like nursing, these are fields where the need for trained candidates is greater than the available worker pool. The possibilities for advancement for our families are ever-increasing!
We are confident that providing educational and job-training opportunities for children and their parents can begin to build an intergenerational cycle of opportunity that impacts our entire community. It is literally taking a village to help move these children and their parents toward educational success and economic security: our staff, volunteers, social workers, numerous nonprofit organizations, donors, the Community Foundation, and many, many special friends. We are blessed to have such special people in our lives at Alta Vista who are truly making a difference!
Read an in-depth description of the program on the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s website.