Being student-centered is one of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s core values that drives the work of our organization. We’re excited to share with you how the Sulzbacher Center provides the opportunity for homeless men, women and children to achieve a better life. Jasmine Souers, Communications & Outreach Specialist of the Sulzbacher Center captures a story that is an inspiring example of how every child is capable of succeeding in school with the right supports and resources. - Ale’ta Turner
By the time she was 9 years old, Abigail Ramos-Galindo had already failed grades 1 and 2 once. She and her mother, Mary, became homeless four years ago after Mary suffered a stroke and a massive heart attack while teaching a high school class. For years, they bounced between homeless shelters and living with family members resulting in frequent uprooting and multiple school transfers. Unfortunately, Abby is just one of more than 2,100 students experiencing homelessness in Duval County who struggle to achieve academic success and one of nearly 70 children that call the Sulzbacher Center home.
“I taught trigonometry and calculus,” explained Mary. “And I just couldn’t understand why she wasn’t learning like the other kids.”
To Abby the answer was simple; she felt overwhelmed by the difficulty of the assignments and just didn’t pay attention. But after completing an educational assessment called an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) to determine whether or not she needed to be placed in exceptional education classes, Mary discovered that Abby’s learning difficulties were in part due to Abby having ADHD. The other part, according to Abby, was due to a lack of resources for additional help, but five months ago, Abby started receiving the help she so desperately needed.
Mary and Abby were finally able to secure a family room at the Sulzbacher Center and with the help of Maxine Engram, the Center’s Child Development Program Manager, Abby’s entire outlook on education changed. While she didn’t enjoy the children’s program at first, the moment she realized the impact of the tutoring on her grades she couldn’t stay away.
“She figured out they were helping her with her homework and that her work was right the first time,” said Mary. “She would come back to the room so excited and say, ‘Check it mama. It’s right! I know it’s right because the tutor checked it already.’”
When asked what sparked Abby’s recent academic success Mary simply said, “This program.”
At the Sulzbacher Center each child has a one-on-one volunteer tutor that works with them after-school Tuesdays and Thursdays. The volunteers are strongly encouraged to come on a consistent basis to build trust between them and the child. This one-on-one time provides each child with much needed attention and encouragement. In addition to offering tutoring and access to computers to complete extra credit assignments, the program takes a holistic approach to motivating homeless youths by involving parents and exposing youths to different cultures and activities.
“I teach a parenting class here called Passport to Success and it empowers parents to be facilitators of their child’s education,” explained Maxine. “We talk about successful students having balance because kids do better with routine. It’s proven that if you do something five times it becomes a part of your memory and if you do something 25 times it becomes a habit. Everything I do here is so routine, from signing in to expectations.”
Maxine explained that Mary really bought into the program in more ways than one. “Attitude is a big deal. You have to want your child to succeed and Mary realized that she had the power to change her own and that also helped Abby change her attitude toward education.”
“The parenting class taught me to be engaged in her school work and to do homework as soon she gets home,” said Mary. “I told Abby that this is why God has us here, to help her. I was praying for it.”
“It’s easier, now,” Abby said. “Because I’ve been asking for help and they’ve been helping me.”
Today, Abby’s grades have improved significantly prompting her school administration to place her back into standard education classes. This year her greatest accomplishment thus far is having received all A’s and B’s in the last quarter. She now enjoys attending school and she looks forward to becoming a gymnast when she grows up.
“It’s because of the dozens of volunteers who work with our youths that so many of our homeless students are able to achieve academic success. To become a volunteer tutor, visit www.sulzbachercenter.org and fill out the volunteer application today.”
About the Sulzbacher Center
Sulzbacher Center provides the opportunity for homeless men, women and children to achieve a better life. The center’s comprehensive services include street outreach, daily meals, safe shelter, case management support, job placement assistance, medical, dental, and mental health care as well as scattered-site housing. Every day, the Sulzbacher Center is home to more than three hundred homeless members of our community-many of whom are children. For more information, visit www.sulzbachercenter.org.
Community & Outreach Specialist