Hope fills the halls at Stephen C. Foster Elementary, where students’ success is the top priority for educators, plus volunteers from Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.
The church and United to Learn have partnered together to serve as tutors, taking a “Cradle to Career” approach aimed at bridging the learning gap for the estimated 82% of Foster Elementary students learning English as a second language.
“We need to be super intentional about what we do and that the children are up to par at their own grade level eventually to be ready to be lifelong learners,” principal Jacob Johnson said. “The work that is being supported through the tutors is ensuring that those students get that immersion in the other language.”
The project officially started on Nov. 10 with 16 volunteers serving as tutors to about 650 students.
Language barriers have caused ESL (English as a second language) students to fall behind academically and have negatively impacted standardized test scores.
With only 40% of third-grade students testing at grade level, the tutors will focus on math and English comprehension.
The church’s goal is to increase that percentage by providing one-on-one tutoring and wrap-around services so students can focus on learning.
In addition to tutoring sessions, Saint Michael’s has created a Foster Care Closet to provide students with food, toiletries, clothing, and other necessities.
In the coming year, Saint Michael will introduce its after-school Chorister program to students interested in advancing their musical interests, talents, and skills.
“We’ve got to meet basic needs at the same time when we’re trying to help our students achieve their best potential,” said the Rev. Robin H. Hinkle, associate for mission and outreach at Saint Michael’s. “It’s not an either-or; it’s both.”
Johnson agreed, “If we don’t meet their physical needs, then we cannot meet their educational needs.”
Many of the families at Foster rely on the school’s free and reduced lunch program.
Hinkle explained that the “Cradle to Career” approach is essential in the church’s mission to surround families in need with resources, opportunities, and mentorship from infancy through high school and beyond.
Saint Michael’s hopes to prepare and guide students at each grade level, ultimately ensuring that they enter a career path they enjoy, Hinkle added.
“As a school that is about community and equity, this partnership is so special to us because it is meeting the kids’ every need,” Johnson said. “It is not just their cognitive needs but their emotional needs and physical needs. It is a full level of support for our kids and families.”