Ethan Weber is our Community Relations Coordinator. He has the unique opportunity to work with students, parents and donors alike, and he is passionate about connecting our donors to the mission of Fortress on a heart level.
The backbone of the Fortress After School program from its inception in 2005 has been the enrichment labs that our students attend daily as part of the program. In a neighborhood where two-thirds of families are living below the poverty line and students are placed in elementary schools (I.M. Terrell and Van Zandt Guinn) that rank in the bottom 1% of all Texas public schools according to Children at Risk, it is evident that young students in the Near Southeast neighborhood of Fort Worth are in need of additional resources to help them reach their full potential.
At Fortress, our students spend 105 minutes each day in enrichment lab rotations that consist of art, bible, math, reading and for our fourth and fifth grade students, science and technology. These labs are designed to ENGAGE students in a way that allows them to enhance their classroom learning, expand their minds in creative ways, and build stronger relationships with each other and God.
The math and reading labs have been a staple at Fortress since the beginning. We believe the work in these labs is vital because of the fact that these foundational skills are so fundamental to success at school and in the workplace. All pre-K – third grade students participate in these self-paced software programs from Creative Education Institute. The programs are able to identify a student’s current reading and math skill levels and help them build on those levels through individualized lessons. Amazingly, the reading program has allowed 72% of our kids who have been in the program for three or more years to gain skills that are at or above their current grade level while 83% of those same kids have gained skills that are at grade level or above in math.
The fact that so many of our students are getting caught up in these essential skills has meant that our teachers are now able to work with students to push their minds toward new concepts and new ideas. Just last week, our math lab teacher Ms. Tracy was able to introduce division and its relationship to multiplication to third grade students Harmony and Ta’Niya while second grader Rayla was introduced to multiplication for the first time by adding numbers in her head to get answers rather than counting on her fingers. The excitement we saw on these students’ faces as their minds were stretched and new concepts were discovered was very rewarding.
Another staple of the after school program, going back to Fortress’s time as a church, is Bible lab. In this lab, students explore biblical concepts and ideas with the main message being that God loves them and has a plan for their lives. Students spend time in this lab learning scripture, studying biblical stories and worshipping through song. When asked recently about their favorite part of Fortress After School, over 50% of students mentioned something related to Bible class.
One example of growth we have seen in our students through this lab came from a recent testimony of a student’s mom. She said her daughter Denise loves Bible class so much, she keeps all of the projects and papers that she has ever completed to remember all the things that she has learned about God. This school year for the first time, Denise was able to say all the books of the Old Testament for our Bible teacher Ms. Suzanne. Denise’s story is an example of how our students are growing in their faith and understanding of God’s love for them by being a part of Bible lab.
Two of our newer enrichment labs are art lab and the science and technology lab for our fourth and fifth grade students. These labs are designed to introduce new ideas and concepts to our students that they may not be able to explore in school. For example in art class, students have spent time this semester learning about filming and all the preparation that goes into shooting a scene of a movie or television show. Eventually these students will be writing their own screenplays and executing those concepts in a short film. We are very excited about the opportunities that these new labs present to engage our students in new ways.
Please consider making it possible to ENGAGE the young minds at Fortress by donating the $103.58 it costs for one of our students to receive these essential labs for a month (or $1,242.96 for a year). Our kids are counting on Fortress and Fortress is counting on you!