TU Schweitzer fellows deliver literacy and academic enrichment programming for children in transitional housing -

TU Schweitzer fellows deliver literacy and academic enrichment programming for children in transitional housing

Housed at The University of Tulsa, the Tulsa Schweitzer Fellowship is a 12-month health leadership and service program for graduate and professional degree students who want to address unmet health needs in the community while sharpening their leadership skills. In the 2019-20 cohort are two dynamic speech-language pathology master’s students from TU: Gabrielle Cozart and Emily Gore (BS ’18).

2,365 vulnerable Tulsans hae been touched by Schweitzer projects since 2016After hearing a presentation by Tulsa Schweitzer Fellowship Director Rachel Gold, Cozart and Gore decided to team up and design a project. “Both of us have tutored kids in various subjects since high school,” Gore noted, “and we share a strong passion for literacy. Our objective was to find a way to use our knowledge of literacy development to help others – in particular, young people.” Cozart added, “Coming from a speech-pathology background, we are deeply aware of the importance of literacy and vocabulary, and how this knowledge impacts a person not only academically but also in everyday life.”

Literacy, community, confidence

At first, Cozart and Gore’s Schweitzer project plan was relatively simple. They contacted Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma and proposed setting up a literacy table and book drive during their food pantry hours. However, that discussion led the duo to St. Elizabeth Lodge, a North Tulsa transitional housing facility and support service program operated by Catholic Charities for working single mothers with children. The families at St. Elizabeth Lodge come from various challenging situations, including experiences of eviction and domestic violence. The facility gives these families “a soft place to fall,” supporting them with housing and educational programs, while residents build a community with each other. The opportunity there would enable Cozart and Gore to have a long-term, measurable impact on the participants, a key requirement of Schweitzer Fellowship projects.

As they dug deeper into the St. Elizabeth community and mission and met with Sharisa McDaniel, Catholic Charities’ transitional living coordinator, Cozart and Gore expanded their Schweitzer Fellowship project plan and aspirations. “It took interacting with the participants before we fully understood what could work and what could be most beneficial,” Cozart remarked. “And that was followed by a couple of months over the summer spent planning the curriculum and our strategy for project implementation.”

The result is a 10-month project (June 2019-April 2020) geared toward supporting and enriching the lives of youth, ages 11 through 15, residing at St. Elizabeth. “Our overall purpose,” Gore noted, “is to promote the children’s confidence and academic success through literacy and one-on-one tutoring. But Gabrielle and I also make sure to have just fun times, moments when we’re just talking, eating snacks or playing games together. Being casual, consistent, reliable and offering listening ears is important for the children, too.”

Beyond words

Each Tuesday evening, Cozart and Gore arrive at St. Elizabeth Lodge to help seven children focus on writing skills and expanding their vocabulary. “We practice communicating ideas clearly and concisely through writing,” commented Gore. “Some of the main topics we cover are organizational strategies, transition words and different narrative types.” One of the key features of their Schweitzer project is a personal writing journal for each child. An advantage of this tool is that Cozart and Gore can then provide individualized feedback and guidance.

Cozart continued, “We also teach vocabulary the kids are likely to encounter in various academic contexts. Some of these we feature as ‘words of the month,’ which we talk about during group sessions and post on a bulletin board. Emily and I encourage the participants to learn the meanings of those words, and we offer prizes to keep them motivated.”

Homework helpers

Wednesday evenings at St. Elizabeth Lodge are spent on reading and academic development. Cozart and Gore call this session “Homework Hangout” because it involves time and space for the children to do their school homework. According to Cozart, research shows that such opportunities are often scarce for young people living in transitional housing. If a child doesn’t have any homework that day, Cozart and Gore encourage them to find and read books that spark their interest. “The kids have come to enjoy tracking how many hours they spend reading each month,” noted Gore.

A central feature of these two-hour Wednesday evenings is one-on-one meetings. The approach Cozart and Gore developed for these pivots on close collaboration with each child. “Our aim here,” Cozart explained, “was to develop specific academic goals they want to achieve during this school year. Every child thought up personal goals, such as improving their grades, being more confident, making new friends, staying organized and turning in homework on time. Emily and I then help them plan the concrete steps they’ll need to take in order to succeed.”

But goal-setting isn’t only for the kids. Cozart and Gore wove in measurable outcomes for themselves, too. As Gore explained, “Our objectives for the Wednesday classes are to foster the children’s school success, guide them in personal goal-setting and increase their academic self-confidence. When they flourish, we know the aims of our Schweitzer Fellowship project are being met.”

Schweitzer Fellows have spent 8,341 hours improving the health of the community since 2016

The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship is a 12-month health leadership program for Tulsa-area graduate and professional degree students from any discipline. The fellowship exists to address Tulsa’s vast health disparities in two ways: by piloting immediate solutions through fellows’ projects and by developing leaders who have the confidence, skills and networks to address these disparities for the long haul. Fellows receive a $2,000 stipend. Fellowship applications for the fifth cohort are due on Feb. 10, 2020. If you are interested in becoming a Tulsa Schweitzer Fellow, visit us online or send an email to rachel-gold@utulsa.edu.

38 Schweitzer projects have been launched since 2016