By Camisha Jones
At 12 years old, her life goal was to be pregnant within 1 year. Despite being in 6th grade, she entered the Peter Paul Development Center reading on a 3rd grade level and having only 5th grade math skills. Let’s call her “Stephanie.”
Stephanie lives in Richmond’s East End surrounded by the highest concentration of poverty in our city and south of New York City. In Stephanie’s neighborhood 39% of families live below the poverty line while statewide only 7% of families experience poverty at that level. Close to 50% of these families are headed by a single parent. Many of them live within one of our city’s four largest public housing communities which sit within a one mile radius in the East End. Those who reside in Fairfield, Mosby, Creighton and Whitcomb have an average annual income level of $8,068.
Stephanie is at high risk of experiencing teen pregnancy, STDs, criminal activity and psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. Often these outcomes have connection to the high level of domestic, child and sexual abuse present in the East End. Drug and gang activity in the neighborhood add another level of risk.
Getting an education in Stephanie’s neighborhood has its own complexity. More than 45% of those living in the East End over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
In the East End, there are 3,500 school-aged children who contend with the same challenges that Stephanie does.
Despite all these alarming facts, the East End is not without the glimmer of hope. Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC) is one source. After only 2 years attending the Center, Stephanie’s math and reading skills are now at or above grade level. More importantly, she has bigger dreams for her life. She wants to finish high school, attend college and become a nurse.
Christopher Moore learned about the difficult realities of people living in the East End in 2005. He was invited to attend one of Peter Paul Development Center’s “windshield tours,” through which people learn about PPDC and the neighborhood it serves by taking a bus tour. “I was blown away by what I learned, “says Moore. “Most alarming of all was how ‘invisible’ this part of town was to the wider Richmond community. It’s one thing to cite statistics—and there are many sobering ones that point to the deep challenges in this community—but it is another thing altogether to see it with your own two eyes.”
Moore began volunteering with the organization and today he serves as chairperson for PPDC’s board of directors. He says the organization is unique in that it was “born in the neighborhood, of the neighborhood, through the vision and faith of a man who lived, worked, and worshipped in the East End.”
We do school, after-school,”
Ingrid de Roo, Lead Teacher at PPDC
Founded in 1979 by East End resident John Coleman, PPDC’s mission is to build a community of learners by engaging and challenging children, families, and seniors in Richmond’s East End through programs that enhance academic achievement, provide cultural enrichment, and promote self-esteem and lifelong self-sufficiency. In their work with youth, the Center’s goals are to help children perform academically on grade level, increase the social and communication skills of youth and provide enriching experiential opportunities.
“We do school, after-school,” says Ingrid de Roo, Lead Teacher at PPDC. She and others at PPDC set and communicate high expectations for the young people who attend. Ms. de Roo believes it is one of their keys to success. Additionally, the PPDC model includes pre- and post- instructional assessments, individualized education plans, and small classroom settings. Every young person at PPDC is expected to participate in two experiential activities each week. These activities have included African dance, athletics, drum lines, museums, music, foreign languages and creative writing.
The Center’s efforts have had transformative results. According to Moore, PPDC’s most recent assessments revealed that their students “progressed academically 50% more than their national peer groups.”
“Never have I had a job where at the end of the day my heart is so full, than I have working as a teacher at Peter Paul,” says de Roo. “It’s full because I see learning happening on a daily basis. And not simply seeing that ‘light-bulb go off’ moment, as when a student masters a concept, but true learning where self-confidence is gained.”
Peter Paul is currently serving 72 children ages 7 to 18. They’d like to serve more but they cannot do it alone. “People can support PPDC by giving of their time, talent and treasure. As a non-profit we depend on all three of these components to continue the great work that PPDC is doing and desires to continue to do in the future,” says de Roo.
Moore invites those interested in learning more about the PPDC to attend a windshield tour. The one hour tours are held on the second and fourth Wednesday each month. The tours leave at 12 pm and include lunch.
The Youth Program has two primary components: Our flagship After School Learning Immersion Program and the Summer Institute. Both components of the Program have been intentionally designed not as drop-in programs, but ones with clear expectations of regular attendance, academic performance and good behavior in school, at the Center, and in their community. We also provide a Bridging the Gap Program, Enrichment Activities, and Senior Citizens Activities.
After School Learning Immersion Program:
Of the more than 100 youth programs in the metro Richmond area, Peter Paul’s is distinctive because it administers academic testing using nationally standardized instruments and provides the children with individual academic achievement plans that are carried out using experienced certified teachers. To achieve this level of intensive service, the Center serves children from seven public schools in the East End: Fairfield Elementary, Woodville Elementary, Bellevue Elementary, George Mason Elementary, Chimborazo Elementary, Martin Luther King Middle School, and Armstrong High School. In addition, Peter Paul serves a few students who live in the East End who attend private schools in Richmond.
Our primary goal is to find academic baselines through testing and create an individual achievement plan for each youth in the program. In so doing, Peter Paul works to serve as completely as possible the academic needs of each youth in our charge, ensuring that they have the tools and resources to perform at the highest academic standards.
Because of the senseless violence that occurs in this area, transportation is a vital feature of the program. The Center keeps the children safe by picking up each child at school and delivering them home during the school year and picking them up at home and returning them home during the Summer Institute.
Peter Paul also supplies a healthy meal for each child because the majority of our youth are eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.
The Center’s Summer Institute contains an academic component each morning, and each afternoon is filled with arts and crafts, field trips to various locations around the metro area, sports and recreation, and independent reading time. The most current Best Practices (as determined by the After School Alliance) call for a strong summer program to follow and complement a strong after school program. Academic progress cannot take the summer off and must be offered throughout the year.
Bridging the Gap:
All Bridging the Gap participants are in high school and many participate in extra-curricular activities. Currently, all have aspirations to attend college. Participation in the program provides the students volunteer opportunities in the community, homework and school project assistance, guidelines for safe social interactions, as well as aids the students to identify areas of academic and career interests.
In addition to our academic programs, Peter Paul offers many social and physical enrichment opportunities for our students. These opportunities allow students exposure to many types of activities including visual and performing arts, gardening, athletics, and robotics. Our students also take educational field trips in the metro Richmond area.
In order to encourage continued socialization for persons over the age of 50 in our neighborhood, we offer senior citizen activities on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Read more about PPDC at http://peterpauldevcenter.org/. Volunteer and donation needs are listed monthly in their newsletters.