Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Response to Student Literacy Needs at Mother of Sorrows Catholic School

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Response to Student Literacy Needs at Mother of Sorrows Catholic School

Article excerpt

The present condition of literacy in the United States is alarming. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 68% of fourth grade students and 69% of eighth grade students are not proficient in reading (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). These numbers increase dramatically for students from low-income families. Ninety percent of fourth grade students and 89% of eighth grade students who qualify for the National School Lunch Program read below grade level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). The urgent need to improve our nation's literacy programs has not gone unnoticed by researchers. Several studies have demonstrated that students who struggle with reading in their first three years of school rarely achieve grade-level reading skills in later education (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998; Torgesen, Rashotte, & Alexander, 2001). Due to this research, the primary focus for improving reading has been on the implementation of effective early literacy instruction in the primary grades. This trend was supported by the federal government's Reading First initiative, which funded research-based early literacy programs for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Though these programs are clearly essential for fostering the reading skills of our youngest students, schools must not overlook the needs of the substantial number of older students who still struggle with reading.

Mother of Sorrows Catholic School has not been immune to low performance in literacy. Located in a low-income, urban neighborhood, Mother of Sorrows Catholic School has faced numerous challenges since its founding by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1948. After 34 years of service, the sisters withdrew from the community in 1982, leaving a lay administration to manage the school. The subsequent years were characterized by frequent staff and administration turnover and a drastic drop in enrollment resulting in financial difficulties. The academic program was also affected, and students regularly performed well below the national average. By 1999, the parish was ready to close the school. To prevent its closure and improve the service provided to the community, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (DC) assumed the administration of the school.

Though the doors stayed open, severe financial hardships remained. To achieve financial stability, the Daughters of Charity increased their involvement in 2002 by co-sponsoring the school with the archdiocese. In accordance with the co-sponsorship agreement, the Daughters of Charity education councilor--who oversees all education missions in the Province of the West-assumed all administrative and financial responsibilities previously held by the pastor. Since that time, the school has been guided by the Vincentian charism to honor Christ "as the source and model of all charity, serving Him corporally and spiritually in the person of the poor" (Congregation of the Mission, 2004, p. 28). In support of this mission, no family is turned away because of financial hardship. As a result, 98% of the student body qualifies for the National School Lunch Program. To better support the needs of these students, numerous improvements have been made to the school.

To facilitate this renewal, substantial emphasis has been placed on improving the curricular and instructional programs at the school. The academic needs of the students in the inner-city community are great. Mother of Sorrows Catholic School serves children who are predominantly first- and second-generation Latino immigrants. Each year, approximately 77% of the students are English-language learners and 60% enter kindergarten without an awareness of letters, sounds, or age-appropriate vocabulary. To assist with the instruction of the students in the primary grades, the school adopted a research-based reading program in 2006 with funds provided by Reading First. This program was supported through extensive professional development and collaboration among the faculty. …

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