The Learning Center Fund receives progress reports

Five institutions showing improvements, and more to be served next academic year

The Learning Center Fund is growing exponentially throughout the county, and its greatest reward is a collective assertion from parents, students, teachers and administrators that the program is working for a diverse population of students. The ultimate goal of The Learning Center Fund is to make resources available to children who learn differently, so that they can embrace education with enthusiasm and confidence both in and beyond the classroom. It is available to every child in Beaufort County.

Malcolm Goodridge (back left) and students from John Paul II Catholic School congratulate Learning Center Coach Carol Martos (front left), Vice Principal Heather Rembold and Principal Sister Pamela Smith (right) for the grant received from the Learning Center Fund. The program will begin at the school in August.
Malcolm Goodridge (back left) and students from John Paul II Catholic School congratulate Learning Center Coach Carol Martos (front left), Vice Principal Heather Rembold and Principal Sister Pamela Smith (right) for the grant received from the Learning Center Fund. The program will begin at the school in August.

The Learning Center Fund, established through the Coastal Community Foundation (CCF), held its annual meeting on May 22 to receive progress reports from the various institutions to which the fund grants awards. The organizations served this calendar year include The Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry, Bridges Preparatory School, Penn Center, St. Peter’s Catholic School and Beaufort County School District’s Child Find Expansion Grant. The fund has also granted awards to John Paul II Catholic School and AMIkids, who will begin Learning Centers at each respective location this August. And, Holy Trinity Christian School has submitted a grant application for next year as well.

Board Members of The Learning Center Fund present at the meeting were Malcolm Goodridge, David House and Charles Kresch. Also in attendance were Edna Davis, regional vice president for CCF, and D. C. Gilley, CCF board member.

Collectively, all of the institutions showed great progress with an increase in students’ test scores, more focused behavior and greater confidence in reading and math. Students served in this program this year ranged from 2 years old to those in twelfth grade.

The youngest of children served in Beaufort County were assisted by a team of three early childhood professionals within the County’s School District Child Find Expansion Grant. An extensive media campaign was launched to target public and private schools, child care centers, pediatricians, medical facilities and community agencies serving children and families, and monthly screening sites were set up. Child Find purchased assessment materials and readiness packets, and the school district developed an extensive data collection system for the grant, capable of monitoring and tracking results.

To date, 166 children have been screened, and 102 were identified and referred to preschool programs. Through vision, hearing, speech and development data collected for each child, the team identified 20 children in need of further formal evaluation. Twelve of these children became enrolled in Early Childhood Special Education Intervention programs last year thanks to the grant from The Learning Center Fund.

Kay Newsome, Child Find’s director, explains, “We feel the grant has already surpassed our expectations for the current year, and screening opportunities are still under way.”

Laura McAlhaney, The Learning Center Coach at Bridges Preparatory School, agrees. “The best thing about this generously funded program is that coaching has touched the lives of 34 learners here at Bridges,” she says.

McAlhaney developed a Qualifying Rubric at the beginning of the year to identify students who could potentially use the services of the center. The rubric indicated that 100 percent of students receiving services showed improvement in one of more areas of classroom behavior, academic skills, cognitive/processing/memory skills and classroom performance skills.

“Using MAP testing scores as a measurement tool, 60 percent of students enrolled with TLC made gains of one or more years, and 100 percent showed these same gains using the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmarking Instructional System,” explained McAlhaney.

St. Peter’s Catholic School also used the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmarking Instructional System. Of the 16 students given reading services, 100 percent made gains. Some made as many as seven or eight levels, and one student tested out of the program in January.

Nancy Kessel and Pam Pesavento are the Learning Center reading coaches at St. Peter’s, and Joe Benning, the school’s principal, is the math coach who served seven students.

Two organizations that benefitted from The Learning Center Fund were after-school programs at Penn Center and The Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry.

Penn Center’s coach, Ruby Jackson, identified 15 students with learning differences by obtaining BCSD reports from parents. Tutors were assigned based on age, and 100% of the students served improved academically and exhibited better social interaction by the school year’s end. As opposed to other programs, Penn Center’s teachers had the ability to discuss student’s progress with parents each afternoon at pick up, which gave the teachers a communication advantage and the opportunity to have one-on-one conferences.

One of the proudest accomplishments Jackson witnessed this year was watching a student climb from a 17 percent grade point average for his age to a 75 percent.

She adds, “I can see differences, not only academically, but in their attitudes as well. The extra attention is helping their self-esteem, which is necessary for future success.”

The other after school program was located at The Boys & Girls Club and was administered by Erin Ruth. She serviced nine children directly, but over 100 received academic support.

“The direct support to these nine students allowed them to maintain their skill levels and graduate to the next grade level. Without this program, these students would have fallen through the cracks,” explains Ruth.

The Boys & Girls Club will be moving this summer due to modification of classrooms at Bridges Preparatory School, which is located at the Boundary Street facility. The Learning Center will be offered this summer at its temporary location at Shanklin School for an eight-week program. It started on June 9th and will focus on eliminating the summer learning loss using funds from this grant.

Implementation of The Learning Center at John Paul II Catholic School begins in August. The school has hired its Learning Center coach, Carol Martos, and a math tutor, Marie Nicksa. Enrollment for the upcoming school year has more than doubled, and the school district has tested three of the school’s students with another two pending as having learning differences. This is in addition to six who have already been identified as having dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Sister Pamela Smith, SS.C.M., Ph.D. is the school’s principal.

“The school is committed to offering as much as possible to its students. In addition to having staff of The Learning Center, we also hired two teachers who are certified in the education of gifted and talented students to assure that we truly meet the needs of students with a full spectrum of abilities,” she says.

Each organization was given a grant between $5,000 and $50,000 from The Learning Center Fund and was required to match funds. All organizations will continue their respective Learning Center programs for the 2014/2015 academic year.

To understand students who learn differently is to understand educational research and the practice of knowing the whole child as a learner. Research and understanding dictates the need to individualize student learning, wherein educators recognize and build upon a student’s strengths while simultaneously providing remediation and support for areas of weakness. Based on this knowledge and best practice, The Learning Center Fund recognizes that basically all children can be identified as learning differently — that is what makes each student an individual.

For more information about The Learning Center Fund, to donate to its endowment or to inquire about a grant application, please contact the Coastal Community Foundation’s Beaufort office at 843-379-3400 or its Charleston office at 843-723-3635.

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