A tutoring program that now serves 150 students in north St. Louis could expand to help 350 more students in the city and north St. Louis County with the help of $500,000 in federal funds awarded by the state of Missouri.
Gov. Jay Nixon came to the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis Thursday to announce the money to be used in a partnership between UMSL’s school of education and the North Campus, a program founded in 2012 by St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward. The one-time grant comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“This is a solid investment that will have a huge return for students and families in this community and in the economy of this region,” Nixon told a news conference on the UMSL campus. “And I am so looking forward to seeing these young folks and what they achieve in the future.”
French said the opportunity to work the university will help give North Campus greater resources in many ways.
“Even more than the funding,” he said, “the partnership here with UMSL gives us so much hope for being able to expand the services we offer and be able also to connect north county and north city, both the talent and the needs that we both share."
Also at the news conference was state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, who praised Nixon’s support for education in general and math and science instruction in particular. She and the others noted that to get good, high-tech jobs now and in the future, students need to improve their performance in those areas.
“They’re below proficiency,” Nasheed said, “ and we’re going to get them to where they need to be…. This is just the beginning. Our children need our help now more than ever before.”
The North Campus currently provides tutoring both in school and after school to 150 students. Nixon noted that expanding that program quickly will take cooperation and collaboration between the organization and UMSL, but he could not say how soon he expects the increase in the number of students served to occur.
If the program proves successful, he added, more money will be sought to expand it beyond the $500,000 announced Thursday.
Tying the effort to other programs and policies affecting the Ferguson area in the wake of the unrest following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a policeman in August, Nixon said that the aftermath has shone a bright light on problems that have long gone unaddressed.
He put a particular emphasis on jobs and the skills needed to get them.
“The events of the past two months in Ferguson have been a stark reminder of the significant challenges that have vexed communities here in St. Louis, and quite frankly across our nation, for generations. While efforts continue on multiple fronts to address the many issues that have been raised, we’re here today to talk about one of the most important issues of all, and that’s education.
“It’s a value we share as Missourians and Americans, that every child, no matter who their parents are, what they look like, or where they live, deserves a quality education. And in today’s global marketplace, a quality education is also simply an economic imperative. If our workers don’t have the skills today’s high-tech employers need, those companies will go elsewhere and our economy will fall behind.”
He noted that UMSL already has relationships with companies like Express Scripts and Boeing, so its involvement with the North Campus will help students realize that careers there are attainable.
“Too many kids,” Nixon said, “especially kids in low-income communities, are still growing up without seeing a clear path to economic independence. Some of those students are homeless. Many others come to school hungry.
“It’s hard to focus on your next homework assignment when you don’t know when your next meal is coming. It’s one of the reasons that children from poor families have a high school dropout rate that is five times that of kids growing up in more affluent families.”
Increased tutoring, Nixon added, will help “give kids that might have missed a test or gotten a little behind a little confidence to keep going; it means that these students will have a much higher likelihood to be prepared for jobs at Express Scripts or Boeing or a startup or wherever. Within the sight of where we are here are thousands and thousands of high-tech jobs of growing organizations.”
More academic help, he said, can make all the difference in getting a good job and a better life.
“Unfortunately,” Nixon said, “ many kids get off that train too early in their school careers. And this is designed to help keep them on that path.”