"If you have a child who is in sixth grade in the classroom but is really academically at fourth- or sometimes third-grade level, they’re not ever going to catch up,” Jennifer Friend, Project Hope Alliance CEO, says. “If we can start these kids off with a solid literacy foundation, then we believe we can end the cycle of homelessness with the children we’re serving today."
The Project Hope Alliance organization in Orange County, California is using Waterford Early Learning to help homeless children maintain consistent curriculum and learning as they move around among motels, shelters and homes of relatives.
Project Hope leaders say one of the greatest impediments for homeless children to succeed academically is the frequency with which they are in and out of schools. So last year, Project Hope teamed up with Waterford to create the Bright Start project, which offers Waterford Early Learning curriculum on provided Chromebooks. Together, the two organizations aim to close the early learning gap and help these students succeed academically.
“We’re giving them curriculum to have regardless of where they have to go live, whether it’s on an aunt’s couch or in another county,” says Jennifer Friend, CEO of Project Hope.
Friend, a former partner at a law firm, says she first started volunteering to help homeless children because of her own past: she used to be one. In 2010, her brother called saying a newly released documentary, “Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County,” was telling a story they knew from experience.
In 2013, she decided to turn her avocation into her vocation by resigning from her law firm to accept the CEO role at Project Hope. She has helped grow the organization to now serve 400 homeless students in 91 schools.
Friend says cyclical poverty is fueled by under-education and that homeless children on average are two full school years behind. Research suggests those students are likely to drop out of high school.
“If you have a child who is in sixth grade in the classroom but is really academically at fourth- or sometimes third-grade level, they’re not ever going to catch up,” Friend says. “If we can start these kids off with a solid literacy foundation, then we believe we can end the cycle of homelessness with the children we’re serving today.”
Project Bright Start requires students to use Waterford for 20 minutes a day for five days a week. Though only launched in November, the project is already serving 26 children and has produced tremendous gains.
One girl, who was dramatically below her grade level for literacy skills, received an award for Bright Start’s highest use of Waterford Early Learning (the program provides regular assessment and reports for administrators and parents). Her increased use of the software boosted her confidence and brought her up to reading grade level. Her teacher recently called and asked a Project Hope staffer, “What in the world are you guys doing? And can I do it too?”
One boy who was given a Chromebook didn’t even want it, saying, “I know I’m going to suck at this, so why should I even open it up?” But because the Waterford system keeps re-teaching concepts as the child needs, it doesn’t allow for a child to fail. He has also received a boost in confidence and won the Bright Start Waterford usage award last month.
“We are really excited because starting this month we are going to be meeting with each of our kids’ classroom teachers to learn more about the application of their Bright Start experience to their class time,” Friend says. “Based on the results we’ve gotten from the parents, we believe that we’re going to continue to see consistent improvements in academics and self-concept with each child.”
Friend said she’s motivated to grow her organization’s partnership with Waterford.
“I’m incredibly excited about the opportunities this partnership will bring in the new year for homeless children,” she says. “I think we’ve only just begun our partnership with Waterford.”