By: Dawn Cogan, Executive Director of St. Mark Youth Enrichment
St. Mark has been involved with the Dubuque Campaign for Grade Level Reading, led by the Foundation, since its inception. Our focus on academic and social-emotional development in our before/after school and summer learning programs supports the aim to get all students reading proficiently, with an emphasis on contributing to ensuring that all students reach this milestone by third grade. Working with campaign partners has improved the quality of our programs, increased our ability to meet the needs of the students we serve, and made data-driven decision-making a priority.
St. Mark’s Heroes Summer Academy was a seven-week, best-practice program that focused on growth in literacy and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) skills, social-emotional development and family engagement. This year, St. Mark had 142 K-5 grade students enrolled in Dubuque (85) and Dyersville (57). Licensed teachers, para-professionals and volunteers who are passionate about educating students help make this program successful. Teachers create innovative lesson plans structured around literacy, STEAM, enrichment from community partners and physical literacy blocks.
Collaboration with community partners is what made St. Mark’s program so successful. In Dubuque we partnered with the Boys and Girls Club for classroom space, lunches and snacks. The Dubuque Museum of Art also partnered to provide a pilot program in the museum that incorporated weekly art instruction and learning from a creativity mindset. More than 50 community partners offered hands-on enrichment activities with the students at our sites and offered field trip opportunities that might not otherwise be available to our families. Many of these experiences were transformational for our students such as nature exploration at Sinsinawa Mounds and Swiss Valley Nature Center, team building and empowerment at Four Mounds Rope Course, and self-discipline and mindfulness at Hillcrest Labyrinth and Master Springer’s martial arts.
St. Mark also prioritizes evaluation to ensure that student’s lives are being changed for the better. We pre- and post-test our students in a literacy assessment to measure whether they retain self-regulating skills from the social-emotional curriculum, Conscious Discipline. In 2015, 95% of students increased or maintained their literacy skills and 98% demonstrated growth in social-emotional skill development.
While academics are very important, we also understand the acute need for students to learn how to “self-regulate”; to identify, own and manage their emotions. Many of our students need more than just extra help in the classroom—they might have hunger or security issues; they might be the oldest one in the family who is taking care of younger siblings while parents work to make ends meet; they might have behavior challenges that disrupt the learning process. We train all of our program team in “Conscious Discipline”, which integrates social-emotional learning and self-regulation. This makes our program more effective, and makes the St. Mark environment a calm, safe and welcoming space for learning.
When students learn how to regulate their own behavior, they are learning how to work as part of a team; how to be a kind to one’s self and others; how to build relationships and interact in a multitude of settings; and how to be self-sufficient and intrinsically motivated. We know that our students, as they develop these social-emotional skills, are going to learn and perform better academically. They are also going to know how to share these skills with their peers and one day, their own children!