When a child’s life is disrupted by abuse or neglect, one of the many aftershocks can be a drop in academic performance. Although most of the children in our group and foster homes are of average or above-average intelligence, standardized test scores place them in the bottom 20th percentile nationally. For this reason, we believe that education is our most powerful tool for making a long-term difference in the lives of the neglected and abused children we serve.
In 1998, we formed an Academic Advisory Board to assess the unique academic needs of the children in our group and foster homes — and recruited accomplished educators from the local school district, the library system, local universities and private educational agencies to serve as the board’s founding members.
A year later, we launched a multifaceted educational enrichment initiative to help these children achieve their full academic potential. Today, through an intensive program of reading clinics, after-school tutoring, educational partnerships, workshops in the arts and cultural expeditions, Hephzibah continues to expand their educational and cultural horizons — so that they can begin to see themselves as talented, accomplished individuals who have much to contribute to society.
A Helping Hand with Homework
The academic deficiencies that plague many of the children in our group homes can make homework a frustrating and anxiety-riddled endeavor. To ease the stress that often accompanies their daily homework assignments — and to give them the support they need to surmount their academic struggles — Hephzibah sponsors an After-School Academy on weekdays during the school year.
The After-School Academy pairs volunteers tutors called Homework Helpers with the children and provides a welcoming place where learning and reading are shared, encouraged and enjoyed. The low ratio of children to volunteers ensures that each child receives individual attention. This one-on-one homework support builds confidence and self-esteem, while giving the children the help and encouragement they need to succeed academically, despite the many disruptions in their lives.
To help the children in our group homes by serving as a Homework Helper, please contact Volunteer Manager Hannah Weigel.
Shining a Spotlight on Scholastic Achievement
The children in Hephzibah’s group homes also need to know that someone cares about their academic performance. For this reason, the children meet once a month during the school year with Hephzibah’s executive director to talk about their academic progress. During these Academic Get-Togethers, which take place in the executive director’s office over snacks, students who have progressed academically receive achievement awards. These casual social gatherings provide much-needed encouragement and reinforcement, while highlighting the value of learning.
One Book, One Hephzibah
By the 10th or 11th grade, the average child in substitute care is reading at the seventh-grade level. Because reading fluency is strongly correlated with scholastic achievement, deficits in this area can seriously compromise a child’s academic performance. Of all the problems that plague the children in our group and foster homes, poor academic performance may have the most crippling effect on their long-term success and well-being.
To help close this achievement gap and foster a lifelong love of reading, Hephzibah launched One Book, One Hephzibah in 2012. This summer-long reading program combines weekly book selections with themed weekly activities, recreational outings and special guest presentations. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the children in our group and foster homes, this popular program has transformed reading from a solitary struggle into a rewarding and entertaining experience.
To serve as a One Book, One Hephzibah volunteer, please contact Volunteer Manager Hannah Weigel.
Maintaining a Strong Partnership with Community Schools
To provide continuity for the children in our group and foster homes as they struggle to continue their education despite serious upheavals in their lives, Hephzibah works in close collaboration with Oak Park School District 97 officials.
Throughout the academic year, a Hephzibah Education Coordinator works full-time to ensure the children’s academic success by overseeing school registrations and other administrative concerns, monitoring their individual educational plans, meeting with teachers and school administrators, providing individual tutoring, preparing weekly reports on the children’s academic performance and overseeing Hephzibah’s After-School Academy.
Hephzibah also employs an Educational Behavior Interventionist to provide emotional support and help the children overcome behavioral issues that may be impeding their academic performance.