Not unexpectedly, given the circumstances of the children's lives, a great many of them are seriously deficient in reading and in reading comprehension. With professional tutors as well as trained volunteers the Building Blocks for Success after-school programs and the Building Blocks Summer Programs have provided comprehensive educational support to children and youth residing in shelters and transitional residences.
Here is what children created in one Summer Camp art program.
A great way to beautify by recycling.
And when work is done, there is nothing better than a walk in the park with friends.
In this summer of 2012 children like those pictured above and currently residing in five of our partner agencies have had the joy of participating in Summer programs made possible for them by HCEF. Included in the options were Lab Ratz, SLB Radio, Schmutz Company, Therapy Dogs, quilt artist Christine Bethea, storyteller Sydelle Pearl, the Warhol Museum, the bookmobile, and the Institute of International Arts and Language.
- Approximately 150 children and youth have participated regularly in HCEF after-school opportunities since 2009.
- Between July 1, 2010, and June 1, 2011, some 100 children participated in after-school programs at least once and 62 children (averaging 30 distinct children per month) were tutored on a recurring basis. And the numbers keep growing.
- Students generally have spent an average of 25-30 hours in after-school programming during the period of their residence.
- Some 35 volunteers are serving the after-school programs at any given time. Between July 1, 2010, and June 1, 2011, our trained volunteers provided 3,323 tutoring hours.
A Mylan Charitable Foundation grant in support of the HCEF Learning Centers made possible the next step for Building Blocks: a Customized Learning Plan (CLP) for each child at five of the HCEF Learning Centers: Bridge to Independence, Salvation Army Family Caring Center, Sojourner House MOMS, Womanspace East, and Women's Center & Shelter.
Upon entering an HCEF after-school program, children are assessed by an Afterschool Instructor to determine a child's interests, aptitudes, and needs with regard to literacy. The Afterschool Instructor completes a one-page CLP for each child.
Each child's file is kept by agency education staff and is accessible only to the agency staff, a child's parent, and AfterSchool instructors.
Volunteer tutors use a child's CLP to gain a sense of that particular child's strengths and weaknesses. Each plan includes goals and recommended activities to make the most of a child's tutoring sessions. Helping a student work toward achieving her or his individual goals and needs could mean spending extra time playing a phonics game or reading rhyming poetry aloud to a child who is more challenged in those areas. The only rule is: keep it brief and keep it fun!
In July 2011 HCEF established a partnership with Therapy Dogs International: a great way to "keep it brief and keep it fun."
The Pittsburgh Chapter of TDI offers a "Tail Wagging Tutors" program that encourages beginning and reluctant readers to gain confidence and fluency as they read aloud to "their" dogs. Participating children receive certificates of achievement and dog safety activity books.
A professional literacy trainer is providing the volunteer tutors with a library of recommended activities appropriate to a child's specific needs as well as professional development seminars for them and for agency staff.
HCEF with the help of the Regional Coordinator, Homeless Children's Initiative, Allegheny Intermediate Unit has created and provided a literacy "toolbox" for each after-school program site. The toolbox includes Apples to Apples Jr., Sentence Words, an inflatable letter ball, a reader's theater, the 24 game, flash cards (a gift from the University of Pittsburgh's CASE Undergraduate Program), magnetic poetry, blank laminated game boards, a Dr. Seuss Twister-style game using letters, and numerous games created by the literacy trainer. As new "tools" are discovered and tested (by the kids, of course), they will be added to the toolbox.
In addition HCEF has worked with the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) Book Mobile to provide bi-weekly service to three agency sites where the vehicle can be accommodated.
How might you help?
HCEF volunteer tutors are always being sought and as the Afterschool program expands to other family housing agencies, more will be required. To learn about becoming a tutor, please contact Susy Robison, Volunteer Services Manager.
Here's what tutors have said to us about this opportunity to get to know and work with "our children":
"Most of my students actually enjoy learning. I wasn't in the same boat at their ages."
"Just working with the kids and having fun is success enough."
Success is "getting students to bypass life troubles by focusing on work, seeing students become 'the ones who work' or the 'smart ones' after seeing them disoriented months before, challenging their writing skills by competing against them!""
Major funding in support of Building Blocks over the years has come from Audrey Hillman Fisher Foundation, Ayers Foundation, BNY Mellon Charitable Foundation, BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Calvary Episcopal Church, Dollar Bank, Mylan Charitable Foundation, and Walmart.
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