Parents and students enjoyed a recognition event Thursday celebrating the Booker Middle School Summer Transition Program and Project SAIL (Summer of Arts-Integrated Literacy).

USFSM’s School of Education, United Way Suncoast benefit local students

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: July 20, 2018

SARASOTA, Fla. (July 20, 2018) – Algebra was a stumbling block for Micah Brewer, but the 11-year-old says the help he received from students at USF Sarasota-Manatee should make a big difference when the school year returns next month.

“It just helped me to learn, it made it easier,” said Brewer, a student at Booker Middle School in Sarasota.

Each year, students from USF Sarasota-Manatee’s School of Education volunteer at Booker as part of Project SAIL (Summer of Arts Integrated Literacy), a component of the Booker Middle School Summer Transition Program. The only one of its kind in Sarasota, the transition program is designed to help incoming sixth graders retain what they learned the previous school year while gearing up for the next one. On Thursday, students in the program celebrated the end of the session with a recognition event and luncheon in the school cafeteria.

Educators say the leap from fifth to sixth grade is often difficult as the middle school curriculum becomes more rigorous. The transition program, facilitated by Program Director Kay Daniels, focuses the students on core subjects they’ll encounter entering sixth grade, including science, mathematics and language arts.

USFSM’s School of Education, United Way Suncoast benefit local students

Project SAIL students and tutors.

Dr. Marie Byrd, director of USFSM’s School of Education, and Dr. Pat Wilson, associate director, began collaborating five years ago with Booker Middle School Principal Dr. LaShawn Frost to bring an art element to the transition program.

“Our students volunteer at Booker Middle School twice a week and work with small groups of students identified by teachers as those who would benefit from arts-enhanced strategies,” Dr. Byrd said.

USFSM’s School of Education, United Way Suncoast benefit local students

Dr. Marie Byrd

“This program benefits not only Booker Middle School students but the School of Education students as well,” she said. “Through the tutoring sessions, our students gain real-world experience with diverse populations, in this case by teaching in small, group settings.”

During the six-week period, the students focus on arts-enhanced instructional strategies, a teaching technique facilitated by Dr. Helene Robinson, coordinator of the School of Education’s arts-integration effort. The strategies incorporate academics with the arts to help students  understand and retain the academic material. Dance, music, visual arts and performing arts are all employed as the tutors work closely with their pupils.

Kaitlyn Walsh, a senior in elementary education, who worked as a tutor, said arts-enhanced instruction can help students learn “on a level they’re comfortable with.”

Bulls Notebook: USFSM researcher to visit Bulgaria, refugee camps

Dr. Helene Robinson

“It takes the pressure off so they can start to relax and understand the material,” she said.

Sharon French, another tutor, agreed and said the technique allows students to express themselves creatively while opening doors to learning.

“It breaks down barriers so they can start to learn more effectively,” she said. “I think it makes a difference, and I think it can help them as they transition to middle school.”

French worked with five students in two sessions of two to three students each. Altogether, USFSM fielded nine tutors for this year’s Project SAIL. The yearly effort is a collaboration involving Booker Middle School, USFSM’s School of Education and United Way Suncoast.

USFSM’s School of Education, United Way Suncoast benefit local students

Project SAIL tutor Lindsay Rowe prepared this cake.

Sandra Mendoza, project manager for neighborhood initiatives at United Way Suncoast, said programs like Summer Transition and Project SAIL are important because they address two chief concerns of educators: Helping students prepare for the upcoming school year and tackling the “summer slide,” when students regress in their learning as a result of the summer break.

Mendoza said USFSM’s contribution in particular is important because it adds a specialized learning component that can mean all the difference to certain students.

One such student, Eric Rojo, a 10-year-old from Mexico, was among those helped by USFSM.

The boy started the school a year ago knowing only few words of English. As the year progressed, he found he needed additional instruction. By participating in Project SAIL he was able to work closely with USFSM School of Education students to become better prepared for the next school year.

“Often, with ESOL students like Eric, they understand the content of the material, but they have a hard time expressing themselves,” said Mendoza. “By working with the students, he was able was overcome some of those language barriers.”

Asked his favorite topic, Rojo said he enjoyed a language game employed by SAIL tutor Camye Dudovitz called Context Clues, which encourages students to learn words based on their context in a sentence. By exploring sentences, students reveal the intended meaning of words.

“It was fun and it helped me to understand English better,” he said.

In addition to French, Walsh and Dudovitz, the other USFSM students who volunteered for Project SAIL were Cara Caudill, Emily Golden, Kristina Grinchuk, Brittany Pacifico, Lindsay Rowe and Ally Watson.

To learn more about USFSM’s School of Education, visit

Read more news stories below or view as a list