“Homelessness is a year round problem. It is not confined to the school year.”

How do you measure success in a pre-school program for homeless three and four year olds? Two steps into the active classroom at The Ark and “Success” is evident in every corner. The children are engaged and the instructors and volunteers are first rate. The room is filled with learning opportunities targeting verbal skills in a way that learning is interactive and fun!

The average length of stay in The Ark School is only four months so parents and family life are unsettled. The transitory nature of homelessness makes follow up difficult.  Research has confirmed time and again that children from very low income homes have exponentially lower verbal skills than their better-off cohorts, so these Ark students are not able to verbally affirm their experience at the time they are there. Homeless families are not only struggling economically, they are in a state of constant crisis and stress. This permeates the parent/child relationship in so many detrimental ways.

“Mr. Stan,” as he says he is known professionally at The Ark, is a retired speech pathologist who volunteers a number of times a week. One of his strategies to increase word capacity is to encourage the children, one on one, to sort plastic figures into “Farm Animal”, “Ocean Animal”, “Museum Animal” and “Pet” categories. One child, “Bob,” tried to sort the animals earlier in the day before we arrived. Bob would not concentrate on the task. He came back to Mr. Stan later, while we watched, and was able to sort the animals properly with Mr. Stan’s encouraging approval when he got it right. This was an enormous success for Bob! This was also a defining moment of “Success” in the Ark Program.

The Ark Program is located in the Johnson Square Elementary School because their previous, much more spacious location, was sold and they had to relocate. As much as Nancy Newman, director of the Ark Program for twenty years, wishes daily for a new larger space for the program, the proximity to the elementary school provides daily examples of success for her preschoolers. Past “graduates” of the Ark, now in elementary school at Johnson Square, often stop by to report on something new they learned that day in order to be rewarded with a snack!

One kindergartener returned to The Ark classroom and read an entire book to the current students. That is success on steroids! The Ark’s program is not confined to the school year. As Director Nancy Newman so eloquently summed it up, “Homelessness is a year round problem. It is not confined to a school calendar."

The Ark School is the ONLY state accredited pre-school program for homeless kids. The program exists on the kindness of others. The only public funding they receive is reimbursement for food for the kids. The Women’s Giving Circle is very proud to have supported this remarkable and crucial program for homeless children. If you like, visit www.ecsm.org/programs/ark.php  to learn more about how you can engage them too!

Written by: Beth Lebow

Name of Organization:Episcopal Community Services of Maryland, Inc.
Name of Project:The Ark School
Date of Grant:2006
Amount of Grant: $ 12,000.00
Program/Grantee Website:www.ecsm.org
  
Name of Organization:Episcopal Community Services of Maryland, Inc.
Name of Project:The Ark School
Date of Grant:2008
Amount of Grant: $ 15,000.00
Program/Grantee Website:www.ecsm.org
  
Name of Organization:Episcopal Community Services of Maryland
Name of Project:The Ark Preschool
Date of Grant:2012
Amount of Grant: $ 20,000.00
Program/Grantee Website:www.ecsm.org
  
Name of Organization:Episcopal Community Services of Maryland
Name of Project:The Ark Preschool
Date of Grant:2014
Amount of Grant: $ 20,000.00
Program/Grantee Website:ecsm.org