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Summer camp in Alabama’s rural Black Belt aims to improve STEM performance for local students

As students across the state prepare to return to the classroom, a group of Black Belt middle and high school students will be ahead of the learning curve after completing the Black Belt Scholars Summer STEM Camp late last month. The pilot program, sponsored by State Senator Bobby Singleton, engaged students in an intensive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum as well as financial literacy and entrepreneurship over the course of three weeks.

The week-long inaugural Black Belt Scholars Camp pilot program took place from July 12-30, 2021, under the direction of Dr. Charles C. Woods and Woods Promise, Inc., in partnership with Marshae Madison, founder of Glow Up Leadership Academy.

Middle and high school students in Hale, Greene, Sumter and Tuscaloosa Counties were able to participate in the camp at no cost. The pilot program was such a success that the organizers are in the process of forming a tax-exempt non-profit entity, Alabama Blackbelt Scholars, Inc., to ensure this program and others like it can continue to serve students across the Black Belt region. Singleton said that in 2022, the organization expects to reach at least 300 students across Hale, Greene, Marengo, Tuscaloosa and Sumter counties.

“The jobs of the future are in STEM and innovation. As a public servant, I feel a responsibility to make sure the next generation of Black Belt leaders have the tools they need to thrive in these arenas,” said Sen. Singleton. “We launched the three-week pilot program to set some baselines, but the long-term vision is for this to be an annual six-week summer program open to 300 Black Belt students across five counties.”

In addition to a rigorous curriculum, student participants engaged in field trips to EdFarm, Southern Research, Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Birmingham’s Miles College to gain first-hand insights on the technological advances powering education and innovation across Alabama. Students also visited historic sites in Montgomery, including the Rosa Parks Museum and the State Capitol where they spent time with Governor Kay Ivey.

Singleton believes these sorts of experiences are critically important to student development, especially those from traditionally underserved school systems.

“Everyone involved in the development of this program has been inspired by the children’s excitement and enthusiasm for learning. Some of our students have had some tough breaks in life and this opportunity to travel and develop relationships with new friends and mentors can mark a real turning point in their trajectory,” explained Sen. Singleton.

“To that end, the willingness of corporate, nonprofit and education leaders to engage with this initiative in a meaningful way is critical to our ability to scale the program and reach more students each year.”

For more information about how to support the Alabama Blackbelt Scholars, Inc. initiative, please contact Terri Reynolds at [email protected]

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