3rd Grade Reading - Why It's Such a Big Deal
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An Important Partnership
For years, Fortress dreamed of partnering more intentionally with our neighborhood school, Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary. Prior to the spring semester of 2016, we struggled to maintain a relationship, despite the fact that 90% of our After School kids are enrolled there. The school had their time with the kids and then they passed them over to us. Not much interaction whatsoever. This structure was a challenge for all of us, but especially for the students that we collectively shared. Social-emotional Issues that happened during school hours spilled over into Fortress hours without any communication. Students who struggled academically suffered as well; because we didn’t know how the school was addressing specific academic challenges, we would approach them in a different way. To serve our students better, we knew we had to build a more collaborative relationship.
During the spring of 2016, one of our parents - who also happened to be a fifth grade teacher at the school - invited our community relations coordinator, Ethan, to attend a site-based decision making meeting made up of school and community stakeholders. This was the “foot in the door” that Fortress had been praying for and we jumped right in.
In our annual meeting with a long-time funder (Caris Foundation), we mentioned that we’d long desired a closer partnership with the school. We talked about things we could do that would illustrate our commitment not only to our After School kids’ academic success, but to VZG’s overall success as well. As a small nonprofit with a limited budget, we were at a little bit of a loss for what to do. Caris suggested that we do something for the upcoming Teacher Appreciation Week, and our wheels started turning.
With Caris Foundation underwriting the whole event, we served a catered lunch with dessert and distributed generous appreciation gifts for the entire faculty and staff. This was a big deal for a low-income school where the principal himself provides most of the funding for special teacher events during the year. The appreciation that the teachers had for this gift was unbelievable. We heard expressions like, “I love Fortress so much. No one has ever done anything like this for us. This is amazing.”
That day changed everything. Since then, our relationship with Van Zandt-Guinn has grown exponentially. The biggest way is that our Fortress staff now feels more connected to the school staff, allowing conversations about issues that might be going on with our mutual students. We have been able to better match students with tutors, provide students counseling support, and get to the root of issues faster thanks to these interactions with teachers.
Another way we have seen growth has been our ability to share resources. When Van Zandt-Guinn was out of space to teach a parenting class, we were able to provide a room at Fortress. We have also hosted training sessions and parent classes with support from the Van Zandt-Guinn staff. Most recently, one of the teachers on staff at VZG committed to helping us create and implement a custom literacy curriculum that will be used during after school hours on both of our campuses.
We are so thankful to the Caris Foundation for allowing us the opportunity to bless these teachers and help us build a relationship with the school that will benefit all of the kids that we share.
-Ethan Weber, Community Relations Coordinator