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Women religious fill unmet need in Catholic schools: English Tutoring Project helps immigrant, refugee children

Posted by on Jul 31, 2018 in News | Comments Off on Women religious fill unmet need in Catholic schools: English Tutoring Project helps immigrant, refugee children

Women religious fill unmet need in Catholic schools: English Tutoring Project helps immigrant, refugee children

Article from St. Louis Review
June 11-17, 2018
by Joseph Kenny

First-grader Helen Kim held a card and prepared for her turn in the game of modified Go Fish she was playing with fellow students. She asked if the other had a card with a word that was the antonym of “wide.”

Seeing no response, Sister Joan Stoverink, ASC, defined the word “wide” so one of the students at the table could find the opposite. She extended her arms and said that wide “is a tough one; it means ‘spread out.’” Just then, a student sprung to his feet and shouted out the antonym, “narrow.”

Sister Joan Stoverink, ASC, smiled as kindergarten student David Mung celebrated a victory in a game of “Go Fish Antonym” in class on May 21. Sister Joan tutors students at St. Stephen Protomartyr, many of whom are from Myanmar, as part of the English Tutoring Project.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Four students at St. Stephen Protomartyr School in south St. Louis came together to play the game as part of their participation in the English Tutoring Project, which is completing its 20th year of helping immigrant and refugee students in Catholic schools acquire English language skills. It’s an initiative of the St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries.

Helen said that the tutoring helps her with one of her favorite activities, writing. She displayed a story she wrote earlier this school year, “Making a Snowman Friend.”

Joseph Thang, a third-grader at St. Stephen who came to America as a refugee at age 1, took part in the program as a kindergartner and first-grader and now is a graduate, having mastered English skills. “I liked game day,” he said with a smile, adding that the program was especially important in helping him understand instructions that were given in his classroom.

St. Stephen parishioner Hou Khan Nuam has a kindergartner, David, and first-grader, Michael, in the program. “I appreciate this project,” she said. “They gain confidence, get extra practice and gain the same understanding of English as other students in the class. They also learn about and appreciate a new culture.”

Her children learn proper pronunciation, one of the biggest adjustments to make in learning the language, she said. She and her husband speak Zomi, a language originating in northwestern Burma (now Myanmar).

The older of her two children in the program was shy at school, but with the confidence he gained from the tutor, he now raises his hand in class and asks questions.

Pau Mung, Helen’s father and a member of St. Pius V Parish in south St. Louis, said the family speaks Burmese at home. His daughter now speaks a lot of English and corrects his broken English, he said with a laugh, giving the example of his mispronunciation of the word “apple.”

The program allows St. Stephen School to add diversity by serving immigrants and refugees. “We learn about other cultures, their history and that we can all get along in a rich, inclusive environment that makes us better,” said Michel Wendell, principal of St. Stephen. “And it’s great to have a religious sister teaching in our building.”

Sister Joan Stoverink, ASC, smiled as kindergarten student David Mung celebrated a victory in a game of “Go Fish Antonym” in class on May 21. Sister Joan tutors students at St. Stephen Protomartyr, many of whom are from Myanmar, as part of the English Tutoring Project.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

The women religious who founded the program 20 years ago looked for an unmet educational need and focused on students in Catholic schools who were not native English speakers. It fit the mission of women religious, whose communities had come to the United States many years ago to serve an immigrant population.

The program began with women religious conducting the tutoring in a recreational vehicle that they drove to four schools with 64 students from 16 countries of origin participating. Now, English Tutoring Project services are present in eight schools at the request of the principals. More than 115 students are helped from as many as 16 countries of origin. The tutoring is offered at no charge to the families or schools.

Sister Kathleen Koenen, a School Sister of Notre Dame, began work as administrator of the program in 2014, bringing a background in teaching and administration. When the program began 20 years ago, the women religious thought it might be needed for just three years, Sister Kathleen said. But the need remained strong and the congregations that sponsor it and the lay board members have extended their financial commitment to continue as long as they can and there’s a need.

The yearly budget of about $350,000 is supplemented by grants such as $5,000 gifts announced earlier this year from The Saigh Foundation and from The Greater St. Louis Book Fair. Other grants and individual gifts are sought to assist with the program.

Luis Llanos came to the United States from Colombia in 2001 and attended St. Cecilia School. He took part in the program for a year.

“Of course I remember my time in tutoring with Sister Marilyn (Wittenauer, RSM). It was in the fourth grade, and it made such a huge difference in my transition to living and studying in the United States,” said Llanos, who later attended St. Louis University High School and the University of Notre Dame. He worked as as a manager at Accenture in Chicago, a global professional services company, until entering a master’s degree program in business administration at Northwestern University in Chicago.

The multiple tutoring sessions a week helped him feel less anxious and more accepted and allowed him to learn faster, he said. “I remember those times fondly, and they played a pivotal role.”

English Tutoring Project
The English Tutoring Project is dedicated to ensuring that Catholic education is an option for families whose children struggle academically due to lack of English language abilities. The St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries founded the program in 1998.

Grounded in Catholic tradition and social teachings, the English Tutoring Project provides on-site assistance to children from refugee and immigrant families.

With the consolidation and closing of schools, the number of students served fluctuated and the countries of origin changed as new families arrived in St. Louis. All of the Catholic schools that the program served were in South St. Louis until 2014. Currently the project serves at St. Cecilia Catholic School and Academy, St. Frances Cabrini Academy, St. Stephen Protomartyr, South City Catholic Academy, Marian Middle School, all in south St. Louis; Holy Trinity School in St. Ann; St. Charles Borromeo School in St. Charles; and Immaculate Conception School in Dardenne Prairie.

Sr. Kathleen Koenen on The Marc Cox Morning Show

Posted by on Jul 31, 2018 in News | Comments Off on Sr. Kathleen Koenen on The Marc Cox Morning Show

Sr. Kathleen Koenen recently talked about The English Tutoring Project with Tim Jones on The Marc Cox Morning Show FM News 97.1. CLICK HERE

 

ETP Tutor Participates in Literacy in St. Louis Panel

Posted by on Feb 25, 2018 in News | Comments Off on ETP Tutor Participates in Literacy in St. Louis Panel

ETP Tutor Participates in Literacy in St. Louis Panel

English Tutoring Projects strives to connect and partner with others who are working for strong community building to assist others in need. As part of this goal, one of our tutors, Sister Joan Stoverink, recently participated in Literacy in St. Louis: A Panel with the Experts.

“On behalf of Mortar Board, I wanted to reach out and thank you both again for helping us host a wonderful panel event to kick off our literacy awareness week last evening. Sr. Stoverink, we were all so touched and impressed by all the wisdom and advice you gave us in regards to promoting literacy in our everyday lives, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And Sr. Koenen, thank you so much for connecting us with Sr. Stoverink, as we would not have had the opportunity to have her on the panel without your help. I am so impressed by how much ETP has grown since the first time I met Sr. Koenen, and I have no doubt that it’ll only continue to grow under your leadership. The students are so lucky to have you in their lives.” (Erin Kim, February 12, 2018)

Erin Kim (Washington University, Olin School of Business, St. Louis, MO) Member of Team of 5 Students from the School of Business who assisted ETP Feasibility Study through the Taylor Community Grant from Wash U in Spring 2015.

English Tutoring Project Receives Grant from The Saigh Foundation

Posted by on Feb 23, 2018 in News | Comments Off on English Tutoring Project Receives Grant from The Saigh Foundation

The English Tutoring Project (ETP) was thrilled to receive a $5,000 grant from The Saigh Foundation to support our mission to provide English language acquisition at no charge to the families or schools served.  ETP, founded in 1998 by 17 congregations of women religious, is currently serving 116 students from 14 countries of origin in eight Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and is grateful for the financial support of the community.   The Saigh Foundation was created by Fred. M Saigh to serve as a legacy of the gifts he gave throughout his lifetime to the community of St. Louis. Mr. Saigh was the child of immigrants and we believe that this gift would have greatly pleased him as it enables us to serve children with whom he would have easily identified. Thank you, Mr. Saigh, for your beautiful legacy and thank you to the Saigh Foundation for entrusting us by your generosity.

English Tutoring Project Receives Grant from Greater St. Louis Book Fair

Posted by on Jan 12, 2018 in News | Comments Off on English Tutoring Project Receives Grant from Greater St. Louis Book Fair

The English Tutoring Project (ETP) was thrilled to receive a $5,000 grant from The Greater St. Louis Book Fair to support our mission to provide English language acquisition at no charge to the families or schools served.  ETP, founded in 1998 by 17 congregations of women religious, is currently serving 116 students from 14 countries of origin in eight Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and is grateful for the financial support of the community.   The Greater St Louis Book Fair will be held May 3-6, 2018 at Greensfelder Recreation Complex at Queeny Park. The Book Fair generates the funding used for grants to promote the importance of reading and literacy and is seeking both shoppers and volunteers. Please call 314-993-1995 to volunteer for the upcoming Book Fair.

English Tutoring Project Announces New Board Members

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in News | Comments Off on English Tutoring Project Announces New Board Members

Entering 20th Year of Operations

The English Tutoring Project (ETP) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing on-site assistance to children from refugee and immigrant families to acquire English language skills in an environment where all children experience respect for themselves and their culture – is entering their 20th academic year with several new Board members. Sr. Clare Bass, Dr. Cathy Johns, Dr. Barb Teng and Iggy Yuan have been appointed to a three-year term beginning in September.

“Not only does ETP benefit our immigrant children, but the other students in our school are richer for the experience.” – Michel Wendell, MA Ed, Principal, St, Stephen Protomartyr School

Sr. Clare Bass is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet and is pursuing a Master in Social Work. Sr. Clare is passionate about providing all youth what they need to succeed and language acquisition for our ETP students is a major component of being able to succeed in school and life.

Dr. Cathy Johns serves as the Director of Curriculum for the Catholic Education Office. Dr. Johns will serve as the liaison between the Catholic Education Office and the schools in need of ETP services. Dr. Johns’ knowledge of instructional needs will be beneficial as ETP seeks to expand into new schools.

Dr. Barbara Teng is the Vice President at C Rallo Contracting. Dr. Teng has a passion for Catholic education and will serve on the Advancement Committee to help remove financial barriers so that immigrant and refugee families who seek to send their children to Catholic schools are able to do so. Dr. Teng is excited about the opportunity to include her middle and high school daughters in service to the ministry.

Iggy Yuan is the child of refugees from the Chinese Revolution and his passion for the ETP mission is tireless. He is a first generation Chinese American, being the only member of his family born in America. Iggy is the Associate General Counsel for First Bank and serves on the Boards of the Asian Bar Association the Alumni Board of St. Louis Priory School and is active with the Asian American Chamber of Commerce. Iggy with focus his role with ETP on mission advancement with a special focus on sustainability.

“We are grateful for and welcome each of these new Board members as they embrace our mission to serve immigrant and refugee children in our schools and community -Sister Kathleen Koenen, SSND, Administrator, English Tutoring Project

Founded in 1998, ETP is an initiative of the St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries comprised of sisters from 17 different congregations who remain active today within our mission and activities. Since our founding, over 1,500 students from 33 countries of origin have been assisted by our program.

Teaching Immigrants Requires More than Tutors

Posted by on Jun 16, 2017 in News | Comments Off on Teaching Immigrants Requires More than Tutors

Teaching Immigrants Requires More than Tutors: Stories of Justice

 

Sister Barbara Dreher and Associate Kay Barnes Lend Expertise to English Tutoring Project

 

by Sister Mary Flick, justice coordinator from Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – St. Louis Province March 3, 2017

 

While immigration has captured the nation’s attention in recent months, the Sisters of St. Joseph have been reaching out to the newest of neighbors throughout their history. For some, that “reach” happens close to home through work on the board of the English Tutoring Project (ETP) in St. Louis. ETP has been providing on-site English language tutoring to children from immigrant and refugee families since 1998, with the coordinated efforts of 17 congregations of women religious in the area.

Sister Barbara Dreher has served on its board of directors since 2008, and Associate Kay Barnes has been lending her expertise as a development professional since 2014. Together, they have made visible the CSJs’ love of God and the dear neighbor without distinction.

Expanding Hope, Making a ‘Little Difference’

Sister Barbara Dreher was executive director of advancement for the St. Louis province when she was invited to serve on the ETP board in 2008. Since then, she has been its chair and vice-chair. More than warming a seat, she brings her keen eye in seeing opportunities to invite donors to join the work, and her large heart for teaching children.

Sister Barbara has years of experience as a fundraiser for Fontbonne University, and as provincial of the St. Louis province. She currently serves on the congregational leadership team. But she considers her early years as a CSJ teaching first grade, to be one of her best experiences of ministry. “They [the students] look you straight in the eye and beg you to teach them how to be who they are,” she says.

The chance to help children succeed in school and beyond was motivation for her to become involved in the English Tutoring Project. The program began with “retired” sisters teaching in a donated RV that was driven between participating schools. Today, the English language tutoring program works with immigrant and refugee students on-site at seven Catholic grade schools in St. Louis city, county, and St. Charles county. Twenty women religious and one laywoman “retired” from classroom teaching serve as tutors. In the 2015-16 school year, their classrooms included 156 students from 20 countries who spoke 22 native languages.

The program, Sister Barbara says, “encourages and supports children of immigrant and refugee families to become a part of their community. And the students go home and speak English, helping their parents to learn.

“When I step back and look at who we are as CSJs – how we turn beyond ourselves to serve a world in need, that we are to do all that woman is capable of, that we are serving the dear neighbor – the English Tutoring Project is an opportunity once again to be of service, and expands my hope of making a difference one child at a time.”

Sister Barbara’s experience came together for ETP in a three-year strategic plan that ETP conducted in 2015. “We asked, ‘How do we sustain our ministry if we believe we are making a difference to children and their families?’ I knew I could assist by putting together opportunities for funding,” she says. “In the nearly 30 years since we began, we’ve served children from at least 30 countries at the Catholic schools, with no cost to the family or the school.”

Those years have seen the program evolve: from sisters who volunteered, to offering stipends to the tutors, both religious and lay; expanding the board to welcome lay members; and hiring a full-time advancement director.

“It’s a holy business,” Sister Barbara says. “We have to have business savvy to ensure our ministry will last. Our board knows how to mix the value of mission and margin. There is a strategic commitment to ensure ETP will have the financial support as long as we need it. Children just want an opportunity to be the best they can be. We religious congregations caught that and knew it was our responsibility to help that happen. It’s a humbling place to be. I know we Sisters of St. Joseph are committed to ensuring the viability of the ETP,” she says. “I can’t do it, but we can.”

Finding Resources to Get the Work Done

That “we” includes CSJ associates. Kay Barnes became involved with the English Tutoring Project like many who become CSJ associates: she accepted the invitation. Sister Barbara contacted her with news that the ETP was looking for a lay woman to serve on its development committee. Kay has two personal reasons to be involved in a program like ETP.

“My mother’s first language was Spanish, and she had to acquire English,” Kay tells. “I grew up understanding how difficult it was for her. She always had a real interest in helping other people with language.”

And her own family lived in Germany for several years. “I watched my children go through language acquisition,” she recalls. “It happens so quickly for children and is an easy process if they are given an opportunity.”

Kay is beginning her second three-year term on the ETP board. She currently is a development officer for Webster University with more than 20 years of professional fundraising experience. “Since we were going to raise money [for ETP], we needed to reach into the community and find people who could get behind the program and offer resources.”

Since joining the ETP board, Kay has identified a family foundation that was a “fit” for the mission and work of ETP. “The development director and I made a call. We thought ETP would be a good opportunity for them, and they said yes.” In 2016, ETP received a $25,000 grant from the foundation, with the grant renewed in 2017. “I am proud to be able to share the message of ETP,” Kay says, “and help the donating family foundation recognize that it is a good mission.”

To see how quickly the kids get up to grade level when they are given a chance, Kay says, is part of the inspiration and motivation for her to work with ETP. “I see my own children by watching them. It is a big deal for a parent to see that your child does not have to struggle to do his or her studies and play with the other children.”

A CSJ associate since 2008, Kay says ETP is a perfect example of how she can reach out to the dear neighbor without distinction.

“Our first sisters – some of whom were lay women – would go out into the community, find the need, come together and talk about it, then deal with it. That’s what I think we’ve done here. In my little way I am helping with the English Tutoring Program, not by teaching, but by finding resources to get the work done.”

It is the CSJ way, with many works making little differences that meet the needs of the dear neighbors, wherever they call home.

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St. Louis women religious team up to teach children

Posted by on Jun 14, 2017 in News | Comments Off on St. Louis women religious team up to teach children

St. Louis women religious team up to teach children

St. Louis women religious team up to teach children

by Caitlin Kerfin in Global Sisters Report
June 8, 2017

St. Joseph Sr. Sarah Heger, principal of Marian Middle School in St. Louis, walks the school’s halls with familiarity, greeting girls as she passes, occasionally popping in to check out the creative work they’re doing during the final hour of the school day. The Catholic all-girls school was formed through a collaborative endeavor among St. Louis’ women religious, and the founders’ work is reflected in the encouraging drawings and messages that students have painted on the walls.

Teamwork among 17 congregations of women religious in the St. Louis area became an official nonprofit, the St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries, in 1998. The collaborative was formed out of an initiative from Region 10 of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a national group of sister leaders.

The women wanted to see what needs they could tackle together, said Sr. Kathleen Koenen, a School Sister of Notre Dame.

The first need identified was education for immigrant or refugee children, which led to the creation of the collaborative’s English Tutoring Project. The program, which started in 1998, helps children from refugee and immigrant families learn English on-site at their school.

“No one congregation felt at that time they could keep starting new ministries to fulfill new needs because many of the religious communities that were in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious were getting smaller in this area or had many ministries they were already involved in,” said Koenen, director of the English Tutoring Project. “But if they could collaborate with each other, they might be able to meet a need.”

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The way it’s supposed to be

Posted by on May 10, 2017 in News | Comments Off on The way it’s supposed to be

From Global Sisters Report, May 4, 2017

The way it’s supposed to be

by Carleen Reck

Students work on English language activities at the sisters’ English Tutoring Project. (Sr. Kathleen Koenen)

I grew up in a home where Dad was an organizer, so we grew up expecting everything to be in order. Dad’s workbench had a chalked outline for each tool, arranged from the smallest hammer or screwdriver to the largest. Before we could read, we would line up our Tinker Toy rods by size, shortest to longest. Our building blocks likewise were automatically sorted into small, medium and large.

Is it any wonder that — when I went to Kindergarten — I insisted that in the alphabet, the smaller letter “n” would need to come before the letter “m” which was clearly larger. Everyone in my Kindergarten class who could say the alphabet properly was promoted to the first grade. Alas, I remained in Kindergarten because I was unable to reverse my home culture and refused to admit that somehow “m” should come before “n.” Eventually, I suppose I accepted the illogical arrangement, figuring that “they” just didn’t understand.

All of us can recall ways that we learned how things were “supposed to be.” We are all formed by the culture around us as we shape our ideas and expressions. Today, many children have been uprooted from their early settings where they could develop naturally and comfortably. They have been relocated to a new world, one where people speak with sounds they have never heard and arrange their sentence-words backwards. Learning — rather relearning — will be achieved at a cost. As we search for ways to help immigrants, we need to make the learning process a bit easier for immigrant children.

The English Tutoring Project (ETP), begun in collaboration by several women religious’ communities in the St. Louis area, is an example of a learning program that addresses the differences of immigrant children. Although “pullout programs” in general have been denigrated in many educational settings, the ETP program designers recognized that children who grew up in totally different cultural and language settings would feel freer to try a new language when removed from a classroom of children whose first language was English. These newcomers are able to enjoy mastering new sounds when they are with others who are also discovering that their tongues can make new sounds. They are free to celebrate when they can “arrange their words backwards” with some level of comfort.

A student smiles at the English Tutoring Project. (Sr. Kathleen Koenen)

A special learning area can also be a place where teachers and students can post items that would be either meaningless or laughable in a classroom of native speakers. The English Tutoring Project, for example, can post in its special classroom a sheet where children can record each new plant they recognize and another sheet where they can name each new animal whose name they learn. In that setting, no one laughs at the simple milestones, but all can laugh together at the new world they are claiming. A simple adaptation helps them to expand their knowledge beyond the plants and animals they knew in their home culture.

Educators face some hard-liners who insist that all children should be treated the same in the same setting. That ignores the fact that our Creator apparently enjoyed dropping us into a great variety of cultures and that Jesus Christ insisted that persons with different talents need to be treated differently, that persons of different nationalities need to be accepted and respected.

Why did the women religious in the St. Louis Area decide to provide this program? It all began at a regional meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), where leaders of many congregations were identifying unmet needs in their region. “Immigration” was named over and over — and the sisters recalled that many of their orders came to the U.S. to help immigrants. They determined that special assistance to today’s immigrants would be a very fitting collaborative effort.

Discussion followed with those who ministered in immigrant areas. Apparently many immigrants — because of their backgrounds — trusted the church more than the state and were sending their children to Catholic schools. Although many of those schools were helping immigrant children attend, they were unable to provide any extra help for the children to learn English. The children were respected in their classrooms but received no regular help to deal with the new language and culture. Those children represented an unmet need, well suited to the traditions, interests and skills of the sisters.

So the LCWR regional leaders formed a committee to study and recommend a practical response. The need became evident for tutoring immigrant children in a “safe” space. The program name would make the intent clear: “English Tutoring Project for Immigrant/Refugee Children.” At the time, the schools were using all their classrooms, so an RV was recommended to give immigrant children their own learning area. During this project’s 19 years of service, separate classrooms have become available for the program.

Because the project was to be sponsored by various congregations, a new corporation was needed. So a new nonprofit began, the “St. Louis Area Women Religious Collaborative Ministries” — not a catchy title, but broad enough to include any future initiatives. The Missouri LCWR members offered startup support, as a group as well as through congregational grants.

This group of women religious identified a need and shaped one practical response. Immigrants bring a broad spectrum of needs that invite a variety of responses. Most basic to any outreach, I believe, is an open attitude, one shaped by the recognition of more similarities than differences.

As we meet persons who have recently emigrated from other lands, we might want to recall the unusual patterns we followed in our own homes. The immigrants, too, have learned how things were “supposed to be” in their culture. Just as we learned there were other ways, we need to provide safe settings and supportive ways to accept them and to respect them as they grow. Many models exist. The English Tutoring Project is one of them.

[Carleen Reck, is a School Sister of Notre Dame; she holds a Ph.D. in education, curriculum and instruction from St. Louis University and is one of the founders of the English Tutoring Program.]