When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Guadalupe School had to close its door to avoid the spread of the virus. The school remained active, but its priorities changed. While officials prepared to switch to online classes, they worried about other challenges their students might face at home.
“We knew that, academically, our kids were going to struggle, but we also knew the first thing we had to do was make sure our kids were eating,” said Becky Youkstetter, development director of the west Salt Lake City school. On weekdays, the students — who are mostly children of Hispanic immigrant families living at or below the federal poverty line — have access to two full meals and a heavy snack, so the school concentrated its initial efforts on delivering food in buses to their homes.
Once that need was met, officials focused on teaching. But students still fell behind. During the lockdown, some students didn’t have internet access. Then, when the school provided hot spots and laptops to facilitate at-home learning, they faced another obstacle: Some parents were essential workers, or didn’t have the digital know-how to help their kids with their online curriculum. Some children were even in charge of caring for younger siblings while their parents were at work and couldn’t dedicate much time to study.
Last spring, the school determined that about 70% of the students fell a year or two behind after the start of the pandemic, said Youkstetter.
Months have gone by since then but some problems persist to this day. The school acknowledged that and determined that one solution might be offering a safe after-school space for working families in need of child care, or more learning opportunities for kids to catch up on their studies.
This was the heart of the application Guadalupe submitted to Bank of America’s Neighborhood Builders program for a $200,000 grant the school received Wednesday. The award is for organizations in underserved neighborhoods that Bank of America considers will best help advance economic and social progress within their communities.
With the funds, Guadalupe plans to expand its early learning center. Acknowledging that its half-day classes for preschoolers might not be enough time for parents to complete their workdays before picking up the kids, the school expects to be able to provide full-day lessons.
Receiving this grant also will enable Guadalupe to open spots for after-school and summer programs for all of the grade schoolers who need it. Before this, teachers helped select 80 to 90 students from their 450-student population who needed these programs the most and assisted them with extra tutoring.
“It’s a safe place for the older kids to be as well. They’re not just home alone, waiting for mom and dad to get home later in the evening,” Youkstetter said. “They can stay here at the school until 5:30 p.m.”
Guadalupe’s mission of helping the community on issues such as workforce development, education, community development and basic needs fits with the Neighborhood Builders program, said Mori Paulsen, president of Bank of America for northern Utah.
“We’ve got a large and growing Hispanic community in Utah and the greater Salt Lake area. Many of the communities in that area really struggle or are below the poverty line, and experience food insecurity, employment and housing issues,” Paulsen said. “This can really help serve those people through a focus on education, literacy and helping them have economic success.”
Guadalupe School strives to make that success possible. The school is the evolution of a Latino civil rights center in Utah in the 1960s and works to live up to its history. During the day, the building, located at 1385 N. 1200 West in Rose Park, hosts an elementary school, where students juggle regular school lessons while learning English at the same time. At night, adults attend English as a second language classes.
With the expanded early learning center and after-school program, Guadalupe hopes to provide more tools to help Hispanic immigrants to thrive.
“Education really is the only way to really elevate this immigrant population,” Youkstetter said, “to help them build strong, productive lives for them and their families.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.