A special thank you to our 2021 Core Grant Partner St. Mark Youth Enrichment for writing this guest blog. To learn more about this extraordinary organization, visit https://stmarkyouthenrichment.org/.

St. Mark Youth Enrichment exists to create environments filled with safety, love, and belonging. We do this through before and after school and summer programs that cultivate the educational and social-emotional growth for school age children and families in the greater Dubuque area.

The past 18 months have been the hardest months in many of our families’ lives. Social isolation, instability, and all around disruption have permeated into daily experiences. And the significant need for social and emotional skills and resiliency has become clearer than ever.

The Iowa Women’s Foundation has supported St. Mark the past 4+ years, helping us develop and expand our successful social-emotional model to change the lives of the girls and single mothers. In the past year and a half, St. Mark has adapted programs to best meet the needs of families, whether it be virtually or in-person.

The 2021 summer program, held in June and July, was an incredible moment to come back together with students fully in-person and gain back a sense of celebration and connection. 120 students attended and conquered fears, climbed to new heights, made best friends, read new books, learned about animals and all things crawly, and so much more.

St. Mark also implements practices to ensure we’re measuring outcomes to show student growth—this past summer assessment results show that 93% of girls improved or maintained social emotional skills.

One parent said, “I’ve seen my daughter more bubbly and herself…The pandemic took a toll on my daughter’s social-emotional health, and I’m thankful she’s been able to re-engage with friendships. She’s been so excited to go to her program each day!”

ropes course girls helping each other

A St. Mark teacher also shared the impact of the summer program: “This program allowed students to make progress academically and socially. All students improved in their reading skills. The most important changes I noticed were socially. Our class focused on regulating our emotions through breathing and mindfulness strategies. One student started the program struggling to regulate his emotions. Each week this student progressed and was able to regulate his emotions and collect himself with the support of the adults in the room. This will help him tremendously when he comes to school in the fall.”

Check out this video to see some of the adventures students experienced this past summer: