By Fr. Daniel Pinell
At the beginning of 2021, Grace Episcopal Church and the Ocala Farm Ministry joined hands to build a computer lab for the children of migrant workers. The tutoring program, called “La Escuelita” helps under-resourced students succeed in school. The computers have been a great addition to this labor and have injected new life into the program.
The computers were financed by a grant from the Episcopal Church given to Grace Church and a generous donation from the David and Lisa Midgett Foundation.
Mrs. Dolores Miller, who runs the tutoring program, shared an update with us about the impact the computer lab has had in the lives of these children:
As the end of the school year arrived, we celebrated with a little party. We had hot dogs, cake, lemonade, and everyone received certificates for their personal achievements, each one dutifully earned.
The following week I received texts from parents informing me that each child had been promoted to the next grade. Exuberant and proud faces were staring back at me from my phone as a few displayed certificates for meritorious achievements.
There were 3 students, all third graders, that had received letters from their public school announcing there was a possibility of not being promoted to the next grade. We worked very hard to avert this possibility. In the end, it paid off. We are so thankful to all those involved in the acquisition of the computers, desks, chairs, and software for La Escuelita. The children love to go to their computers and workstations after finishing the desk work, which includes homework, individualized and group learning in subjects as reading, writing, and arithmetic along with reading for pleasure. The computers allow for reinforcement of skills learned to hopefully aid in mastery. The children enjoy their time there and reinforces the idea that learning is attainable, and can be fun.
Again, we are so thankful to God and all of your parishioners that have joined together to make this possible for this group of children. There are a few in particular that I want to share their story with you. Ben is a second-grader who has already been held back once in first grade. He is outstanding in math and was always ready to complete that homework. I noticed that he would complete all his work but leave the word problems undone. That is when I discovered Ben could not read well enough to figure out the word problems. So, Ben began to learn to read. The shy little boy who would cower behind his mother when she would drop him off began to change.
With individual help and encouragement, Ben is able to read today. He is reading on a first-second grade level. In the school year, 2021-2022 Ben will be in 3rd grade. I hope that with continued help, Ben will finish next year on grade level. He now walks into La Escuelita with a big smile on his face, eager to learn. He acts like he owns the place. A changed little man. Thank you, Jesus.
Yanelli, a new one to the school this year, was very insecure. A good reader but had problems with comprehension and writing. She was one of those worried all year whether she was going to pass or fail. But again, thanks to the efforts of all involved in this dear work, Yanelli was promoted to the next grade and is eager to return in July for one on one tutoring. There is grammar to be learned this summer and with a new software program I am able to purchase, this sometimes tedious work can become fun, fun, fun!
The students come from very humble backgrounds. In many cases, their parents are illiterate in their own language and English is not spoken at home. They lack the necessary background to succeed in school, Their vocabulary is so poor that many times they lack the understanding of the meaning of their spelling words. For example, the word fern or meadow is not known to them, but they must learn to spell these words. They have no clue as the meaning of the word. The computers have become advantageous because now we can go to them to find and see what that word is. It beats using my iPhone to demonstrate pictures. Simple things like that we take for granted are invaluable to them. This extra help they receive at La Escuelita also encourages their public school teachers to join them in their effort.
Having such prized equipment also promotes the idea of personal responsibility and taking care of precious gifted things. At La Escuelita they are taught to clean and pick up after themselves. We leave things better than we found them.
So from all of us to all of you a great big thank you!