St. Carries Center: Tutoring and Mentoring Girls and Moms
By Dianne Anderson
The old-fashioned power of the word of mouth has helped Darleana McHenry grow her foundational learning approach to reach many students of color over the years. Her program now reaches about 150 students with tutoring, mentoring and after-school help.
“Parents telling parents have kept me going now for five years, but I do plan to expand,” said McHenry, CEO of St. Carries Center, a nonprofit program providing STEAM and reading enrichment activities to African American children and youth.
St. Carries Center SMART Academy held Harriet’s Daughters last week, a conference that brought out Black middle school girls and their mothers. Guest speakers impressed upon the girls and moms from Riverside and Moreno Valley about the importance of stepping up academic skills.
The conference, sponsored by Southern California Edison and Moreno Valley Unified School District, also looked to help moms gain knowledge of financial literacy and potential for entrepreneurship.
McHenry said she started the after-school program in 2001, spurred by concerns that Black children were lagging in fundamental academics, in basic reading and math. For the past two years, her research on an Americorps planning grant shows that targeted support is urgently needed to help low income African American students prepare to enter STEM programs.
This summer, they will host a summer program for the parents and students, offering workshops on financial literacy and math for the mothers. She said they are also offering monthly workshops in August in Perris, along with other Riverside County locations.
“Our goal is to prepare girls in math to participate in STEM offerings. We have seven locations in Riverside County that we will be offering workshops,” she said.
Part of the problem she hears from local parents is that elementary school is too fast-paced for students to keep up. In her program, she mixes learning with fun, giving young students plenty of practice projects.
She feels that some traditional school models are missing an opportunity in the summer to infuse academics with playtime.
“Summer school programs are recreational. You can combine recreation and academics, I do it every day,” she said. “Even though my program in environmental science captures the imagination of the kids as project-based learning, I realized I had to spend that time building the foundation.”
Students access online platforms to compete and complete learning modules through tutoring and mentoring after-school and summer programs. She is able to monitor student assignments online, and academic winners get a popcorn party. At Christmas, they also win money as competitive incentives.
Not all families can afford regular internet access, and getting children and parents connected to the local libraries are important. She provides a library field trip to familiarize students with the process, access library cards, or also check out a Chromebook or tablets to work on if they need it.
“It’s a matter of giving parents information,” she said. “We spend a lot of time talking about parents being too busy, but if you make it convenient for them, they will back you up and support you.”
By profession, McHenry is a school psychologist with a teaching and research background. Her first concern is helping Black students access caring, positive tutors, and hopefully reverse schooltime pressures that children often face.
Black boys especially deal with racial bias in the classroom, conscious or unconscious, which creates a tremendous distraction to learning. At a minimum, she said children know and understand when they are being unfairly labeled or scrutinized.
“Preschoolers, three years old, four years old — how do you kick a baby out of school?” she asks.
African American girls continue as the lowest performing girls in math in the state of California, she said.
“If you ask me, there hasn’t been much change in 50 years from Hidden Figures,” she said. “That’s why we are so serious about making a difference.”
For more information on the program, see http://stcarriescenter.org or email, firstname.lastname@example.org