We strongly believe that one of the most powerful tools to break the cycle of poverty is education. If we can educate this generation of children, it will open the door of opportunity in their life that looks much different than that of their parents and grandparents. We offer education reinforcement programs for children beginning at the age of three and will continue to help students through high school and into college.
There are currently nearly 200 children enrolled in our education programs. We are continuously looking to accomodate more children in the program.
All of our programs are incentive driven. The children work hard in the programs and homework assignments, and in doing so they receive points. Our head teacher of the upper level grades, Jenny Mendez, opens up our “store” every Friday so that the children may redeem their points by buying candy, toys, games, clothing, hygiene items, etc,. They understand that at the end of the day, they worked hard and earned whatever they bought.
Children can enter the preschool program at 3 years old and can stay enrolled in it until the age of 6. This early stimulation program began after recognizing that many children were completely unprepared to go into kindergarten. In Cosfsm preschool2ta Rica, the children essentially have two years of kindergarten before entering first grade, neither of which are required by law. If children were not going to either of those two years of kinder, they were even further behind when entering first grade. They didn’t have the skills to hold pencils properly, use scissors, or the basic knowledge and recognition of numbers and letters. This program is held once a day in the afternoon. It lasts one hour and consists of a time to sing songs, storytime, an activity or craft to enhance fine motor skills, and playtime at the end. The idea is that these children will be more than prepared to enter kindergarten and on par with students from everywhere else in the city. We have already seen success with this program as children are advancing out of the preschool program and into the next level of programming earlier than expected in several cases.
The pre-reader program is for children in first grade and up. This has been expanded to included children that are younger, but advanced enough to begin to learn how to read. This takes place in a one on one setting where someone from our education staff will sit with a child in pre-readers for ten minutes and work through syllables, the formation of words, and basic sentences. Children build the foundation of reading through this program. The mark of success in this program has been the fact that the target age of this program has dropped from fifth graders to first graders in the six years the mission has been open. The vast majority of parents in Bajo Tejares are illiterate. We are changing that pattern with this generation.
After children are able to read on their own, they advance to the fluency reading program. This takes place in a one on one setting where someone from our education staff will sit with a child and listen to them read a passage in a one to two minute time period. All exercises are timed and the staff is listening for how fluently the child is able to read the passage and how many mistakes they are making. Additionally, we are tracking the pace at which they are reading and if they are improving their reading spead. The children are tested at the beginning of each year to determine what level they are currently at and are tested again at the end of the year to evaluate what progress has been made.
The comprehension program is the next level after fluency. After it is determined that children can read fluently, we then begin to test their comprehension skills. These are untimed exercises where the children can take as long as they need to read through a passage and answer questions. Someone from the education staff will then review the answers with them. The children are tested at the beginning of the year and at the end to evaluate progress.
One of the most common subjects for students to struggle with is math. We rotate the children through three different math exercises. The first is timed mulitplication table exercises, the second is math flashcards, and the third is word problems in the math workbook. For the mulplication table and flashcard exercises, the children will sit one on one with someone from our education staff and work through as many as possible in a three minute period. We record how many they are getting right and wrong each time to track progress. When the children have to work through the math workbook, they are assigned a page to work on and bring their answers to a staff member to be reviewed. Then, the staff will go over any errors with the children as necessary.
We currently have an English program in place for the high school students. We use the Rosetta Stone program on our computers and students are able to track their progress through that program. Additionally, English speaking volunteers often come to the mission and run English classes for kids of all ages.
One of the most advantageous services we offer at the mission is homework help for all students of all ages, regardless of whether they are enrolled in our programs. The majority of our students cannot take their homework home with them and expect to receive reliable assistance from their parents due to the very high rate of illiteracy. We want to offer them another option than simply not doing it because they don’t have help at home. Our teachers spend several hours each day helping students of all ages and grades with homework. Our head teacher of the upper level grades, Jenny Mendez, consistently has a group of highschool students sitting with her in the afternoons working through math and science assignments and studying for exams. All six of our students currently enrolled in university classes have stated that they wouldn’t have made it to that point without Jenny’s help through the last few years at the mission.
We have a classroom at the entrance of the mission called the reading room. Thanks to the donations of many people over time, we have a library of hundreds of books in Spanish for the kids to choose from. To reinforce the importance of reading, every child who can read on their own must read for a period time, set by grade level, before they are able to go down to the classrooms and work on other programs or go to the playground. We maintain a book with every child’s reading history so that when the arrive in the reading room, we can tell them what book they are reading and what page they are on. This builds consistency and interest. Children who are a part of the pre-readers program can go straight down to the classrooms to work on their assisted reading. For small children who are too young to be in pre-readers and are unable to read on their own, they can take part in storytime where a member of our staff will read a short story to them in the mornings and afternoons.