Beginning a Literacy Partnership with Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School

Dr. Mary Murray Autry

Dr. Mary Murray Autry, Associate Director
Engage San Francisco Literacy Programs

 

When first visiting Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School (Cobb) in October 2016, with hopes of beginning a literacy partnership, I vividly remember entering the office area and being pleasantly surprised to see a wall covered with banners. These were not just any banners but banners representing various universities throughout the United States and graduates from this very elementary school. I had no trouble identifying the principal’s office door that had been labeled with the name of his alma mater. The banners clearly sent a message to me about the mission of the school and the value of education. Because I really did not know what to expect from this meeting, I began with, “The University of San Francisco, through its Engage San Francisco initiative within the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good would like to partner with you in creating a literacy program.”

We have made significant strides since our initial meeting. The literacy program began as a pilot with a shared vision to improve reading proficiency and support K-5 students to reach grade-level proficiency. We also agreed to place university students as volunteers in a first-second grade combination class and a third-fourth grade combination classroom to provide relevant literacy experiences for classroom students.

One freshman and four juniors comprise the pilot of cohorts and began as interns working with elementary students and our community partners in spring 2017. These interns are undergraduate candidates in the Dual Degree in Teacher Preparation Program at the University of San Francisco. Under the guidance of Engage San Francisco staff, the school’s literacy coach, and classroom teachers, interns work six to twelve hours a week to improve K-5 literacy proficiency while fostering competent communication while speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Interns, required to complete the entire semester must consistently demonstrate the same professional and ethical behaviors expected of teachers, and are enrolled in a 1-unit Directed Study course. The course, Literacy, Environments, and Assessments, emphasizes the basic history of the community, literacy instruction, social emotional development, trauma informed approaches, and effective use of the learning environment.

Several questions guide the development of the literacy program. These include: What would this literacy program look like? How do we define literacy? What are the literacy goals of the school? What is best practice for TK-5 students? What are worthy and reasonable goals for university interns? How do we involve teachers? How do we build a relationship of trust with the school in light of the fact that a previous partnership folded? From these inquiries, these key questions emerged:

  1. How do we create a literacy program for traditionally disenfranchised K-5 students who consistently perform lower than their white counterparts in spite of laws and policies designed to support their academic achievement?
  2. How do we create a literacy program for teacher candidates, that models effective teaching, embraces diversity, addresses biases, and focuses on community?
  3. How do we move the conversation from “volunteers” in the classroom to members of the school community?

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The initial launch of the pilot has been far from perfect, but we have learned as we face challenges, and we make changes and restate our commitment to moving from the pilot stage to executing the literacy program in the fall of the 2017-2018 academic year. Feedback from school administrators has led to discussions on expanding the program and including two prekindergarten classrooms. Initial findings thus far suggest that although only 20 percent of interns had any involvement with the school community prior to placement, 100 percent see themselves committed to continuing the internship during the 2017-2018 academic year. We have also learned that the school’s literacy needs were broader than the original plan. Instead of teaching in only two classrooms, interns work in classes across the grade span and have begun the process of seeing themselves as more than volunteers in the school but actually members of a community.

Learn more about Engage San Francisco’s literacy programs and other community partnerships by contacting Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco <kmcotterman@usfca.edu>

A Day at Prince Hall Learning Center in the Western Addition

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The Prince Hall Computer Learning Center (PHLC), an Engage San Francisco community partner in the heart of the Western Addition, is a year-round learning enrichment program that provides structure and support in the form of emotional and academic enrichment programs. Through after-school and summer programming, Prince Hall develops individualized support for children based on their academic needs and family situation. The small scale of this program (up to 20 children) allows for customized, personal interventions that are sustained and based on a strong groundwork of trust.

 

As one enters Prince Hall you are welcomed by Ms. Miram Desmukes, who has 18 years of experience directing the Prince Hall Learning Center. Along with Ms. Andi Horde, who has been an Associate Director with the program for 10 years, one immediately sees the center as an intuitive, loving environment that is labor intensive and intimate.

An initial question comes to mind:  What kind of methods of teaching do they use in their program? Ms. Andi explains as one of the children leaned on her and she kissed her on the head and said, “We are a nurturing education-based program, lots of hugs around here.” While Ms. Andi and Ms. Miriam are extremely humble in how they describe their work, it is clear that it takes extraordinary expertise and time to understand and relate to the kids on a level much deeper than hugs.

“There is a certain amount of respect that we try to embody so that they don’t feel that they need to act out. We respect them. They respect us. Everything is pretty much communal around here. The older children look out for the younger ones and give them pointers.”

Prince Hall is an active partner with several USF literacy projects including America Reads, the Masters in Teaching Reading/reading specialist program, and the Xochitl Book Project and as such, ties into the values USF holds close to heart:  education, social justice and leading to succeed. Collaboration with families is essential, especially to the Prince Hall Learning Center.

The Center is a program of Bethel AME Church and the Allen Community Development Corporation, which is the for-profit arm of AME Church along with the parishioners who support the program by purchasing snack items of need that are listed in the church newsletter. Ms. Miriam and  Ms. Andi also contribute snack items as well as learning aides such as  flashcards, vocabulary cards and books. They provide transportation to the after-school program from some of schools on a daily basis.

When asked what items they needed, they said, “state of the art equipment, like learning tools, some technology, standing desks, writing materials, educational supplies, equipment, toys, materials.” Given additional resources, they would formalize their teen group; facilitate more conversations and mentorship with the Center’s graduates who return home from college and meet up to discuss the transition to higher education, and build out their technology program. It is clear this program is rich with vision, inspiration, deep intergenerational relationships, and succeeding despite many unmet resource needs.

Prince Hall reflects the values and vision of USF and Engage San Francisco, which is why it is great partnership site for USF students to learn. In addition to the teaching the Center does with Western Addition children, they also offer a supportive learning environment for USF undergraduate and graduate students who work with them.

If you woud like to support Prince Hall Computer Learning Center, or USF’s partnerships with them, visit http://www.princehallclc.org/ to see how you can support them or contact Karin Cotterman, Director of Engage San Francisco, kmcotterman@usfca.edu.

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Alumnus Sees the Future of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

 

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Jerry Trotter

Program Director, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

Ayah Mouhktar, our Communications Assistant, interviewed Jerry Trotter at the construction site for the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. Below is a reflection on her experience meeting Jerry, discussing the new facility and what it will mean for the families and children of San Francisco.

Putting on a hard hat and entering a construction site was not how I planned to spend my Thursday afternoon but what came out of it ended up being one of the most eye opening and inspirational experiences I have ever had.

Walking into what would soon become the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center left me with a sense of hope of a brighter future for the children and families of San Francisco.

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Jerry Trotter, Program Director of the facility, is a University of San Francisco alumni (’02) and was recruited by the Multicultural Retention and Recruitment program, which traveled to high schools and recruited students to USF to continue their studies in social justice and the Jesuit mission.

“USF brought me to San Francisco and San Francisco brought me to Booker T. Washington” said Trotter when describing what gave him the drive to want to help the local community.

The new facility is being built at 800 Presidio Avenue and will be made up of 5 floors compiled of 49 housing units, an NBA regulation size gym, a mind/body health center, computer and career lab and a community garden on the roof. It began as an idea as a place for families in the community to convene and organize and is a realistic way to meet the needs for food, education and secure housing. Trotter cares for the children of San Francisco and wants one simple thing to come out of all the great work he does, “we want to have them stay and live in the city they grew up in”

San Francisco and USF in particular played a large role in Trotter’s work and his passion for social justice and the mentality of leading to succeed, and not just to seeing himself succeed alone but taking rising with the community as a whole. The hard work of Jerry Trotter is one that is admirable and inspirational not for just the common citizen but especially USF students who look to actually change the world from here- less than a mile away from the center of campus.