A note from the new ED after two weeks

SPMA Tutoring Room with students

It’s been two weeks since I started my new position as Executive Director at East Side Learning Center (ESLC) in St. Paul. During the past 10 days of work, I’ve witnessed children as they eagerly focus their attention on reading with our one-on-one tutors, more than three quarters of whom are volunteers. On any given week, 161 caring adult volunteers and 29 licensed professionals serve the children we have carefully paired them with to build trusting relationships. The children are learning to speak English as they also learn to read it. Others are learning to connect consonants and vowels to make words or nouns with verbs to make sentences. 

I knew some things about literacy learning before starting at ESLC:

  • Learning to read should be packed with fun, engaging activities, such as games and laughter. As I’ve observed ESLC tutors laugh with our children, give them high fives and play learning games, I’ve realized I am witnessing that “AHA” moment when the child has acquired a new skill.
  • Pre-literacy begins in infancy when caregivers talk to children about what they are doing, what things are named and simply have conversations with children. Explaining the steps of getting dressed or donning a coat before going outside to play increases a child’s vocabulary. The earliest introduction to words and sounds prevents intervention later in life.
  • Children who are read to at home become stronger readers. The simple act of reading aloud helps children make the connection between spoken and written words as well as words and pictures which is part of their foundation for learning to read. ESLC tutors are reading out loud to their children every day.

My prior knowledge of these things was not instinctive, though. I learned them from a “Parents as Teacher” nonprofit mentor who worked with me when my first child was an infant. I learned other lessons about literacy from a former teacher who mentored me and cared for my children when they were young. When I became a Preschool and Childcare Director at a local church, I learned even more about reading from Miss Connie, the Pre-K teacher who taught both of my children and 1000s of others to read. Miss Connie, like many of the tutors and staff at ESLC, continued to teach well past retirement. These individuals are making a huge difference as Miss Connie did for my children.

Will you help us get the word out to the young moms you know? Every mother needs to know all of this before they leave the hospital with their newborn infant!

Here are some things I didn’t know before starting here:

  • The vast majority of children who attend the schools we serve are not reading at grade level – in some schools, only 20% read at a proficient level.
  • If a child cannot read at grade level by the end of 3rd Grade, he or she is four times more likely to drop out of school than his or her counterparts.
  • For many children, customized lessons are required to improve their reading level. Because that’s not always possible for teachers with large classrooms, ESLC was formed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in partnership with John A. Johnson and Wilder’s Achievement Plus to provide the individualized assistance some children require to learn to read English. 

As I continue the important work of the School Sisters of Notre Dame at East Side Learning Center, I look forward to working with the incredible administration and teachers of Saint Paul Schools, our partners, and most importantly, the individuals and organizations who invest financial resources and volunteer time to ensure the next generation reaches their full potential.