While the Princeton Family YMCA’s facility is closed temporarily and the staff has been reduced significantly, our small team is still doing what we can to shepherd our Y through this crisis and support our Y families who are the most vulnerable.
In Princeton, despite its vast resources, there are many children whose opportunities are diminished significantly as a result of financial limitations. 13% of the district’s student body are eligible for federal free and reduced meals. Research confirms that there is a direct correlation between student achievement and income-level – and even for affluent communities such as Princeton, reducing the achievement gap that stubbornly persists is complex. We also know that families with low incomes living in communities with a high cost of living face stressors which often adversely affect their children’s school performance. Princeton High also ranks among schools with high rates of chronic absenteeism in the state, defined as being absent for 10% or more of the days enrolled. Overwhelmingly, low-income students of color are most prevalent (24% for Hispanic students, 26% for Black students) and the district does not meet state level attendance goals as a result.
ABOUT THE ACE PROGRAM
ACE (Accept Compete Excel) is the Princeton Family YMCA’s program to reduce chronic absenteeism in the Princeton Public Schools and build connections and supports for students in grades 8 to 12 who are most at risk of missing school and falling behind.
Funded with a grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation’s All Kids Thrive initiative, the program is inspired by THREAD, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that “weaves” together youth, volunteer mentors, and other community assets to strengthen bonds, deepen a sense of belonging and improve the lives of the program’s students. The ACE program utilizes the same concept with a focus on increasing our students’ attendance, academic performance and social/emotional learning; as well as greater engagement in school and the larger community to assure a brighter future and positive trajectory in life.
ACE Goes Virtual in Response to COVID-19
Mike Roseborough, ACE Project Director, is using Zoom technology to have daily check-in meetings with the ACE students who are now participating in remote learning activities. Mike is also in touch with the ACE mentors and facilitating discussions on ways to support and guide students and one another during this unprecedented time.
Mike is also participating in community-based meetings and in touch with other nonprofit leaders to promote and connect available resources to our students and their families. He’s also planning to continue recruitment efforts and provide ongoing training for new volunteer mentors so the ACE program can resume quickly once the crisis is behind us, and new students can be on-boarded to this critical initiative.
PRINCETON YOUNG ACHIEVERS
Concerned educators founded the Princeton Young Achievers program in 1993 to support economically disadvantaged children improve their school performance and academic skills. Since becoming part of the YMCA in 2011, PYA has served an average of 75-90 students in grades K – 5 from all four Princeton elementary schools from September through June.
For many years, our goal has been to ensure that program participants are ready for school the next day, that their homework is completed, and that they are achieving full comprehension of the lessons. In addition, PYA has always included enrichment activities, provided largely by community volunteers and students from area high schools and universities, to spark curiosity and ignite a passion for learning in a variety of areas.
Supporting Princeton Young Achievers Students and their Families during the Crisis
Trinidad Rodriguez, our Associate Director of Youth Development & Outreach, dedicates her time during the crisis to communicating regularly with our 80+ PYA students and families, in conjunction with the Princeton Public Schools.
Students enrolled in the Princeton Young Achievers program either qualify for free/reduced meals and/or live in one of Princeton’s subsidized housing communities.
Trinidad’s role is shared position with the school district; she dedicates three days a week providing a range of supports to families who are in need of social services, and two days a week focused on the PYA program. This shared role has allowed us to communicate more effectively and coordinate our services better – and strengthens the relationship between our PYA families and the school community, a mutually-shared goal.
Trinidad also plays a leadership role in with the school district, facilitating the distribution of food to families who are enrolled in free/reduced meal plans and who are also Y members, enrolled in our programs. She also works closely with other local nonprofits (SHUPP and Arm in Arm, for example) to promote resources to our families in need.
Additionally, Trinidad continues to play a key role in promoting the 2020 Census and encouraging participation among the Hard to Count communities.
A CHALLENGING TIME FOR OUR YMCA
There is no doubt that this is an extremely difficult time for our YMCA. Our financial situation is indeed precarious. We depend almost entirely on revenues from our membership and program fees, with 10-15 percent from charitable gifts. Sadly, with the dramatic loss of revenues, we had no choice but to temporarily lay off 130 part-time and 5 full-time staff members shortly after temporarily closing our doors. It was a heartbreaking decision because they are the life-blood of our organization, as well as your friends and neighbors. We have a very small staff remaining who are committed to steering us through this crisis and supporting our most vulnerable children and their families.
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