The Foundation Trust Spotlight showcases our staff and partners and highlights the important work they are doing to advance resources and services in our programming areas of focus. In this installment, we are excited to share details about our grantee, the Revere Community School.
The Foundation Trust's Connection to Revere
The Foundation Trust’s connection to Revere, MA runs deep. The organization’s late Founder, Dante Dieso, was from Revere, the Trustees' family stems from Revere, and the city remains one of the primary communities served by the Foundation Trust. We have been proud to partner with organizations that celebrate the diversity of the city while providing resources to advance the prospects of underserved communities.
Revere is home to a large immigrant community, and many of the city’s residents are low income or lack English language or computer skills that can help them in the workforce. To support their efforts to serve this community, The Revere Community School was among the first Foundation Trust grant recipients, and one of a select few to be recognized with a multi-year award. Over the last two years, Fatou Drammeh, Coordinator of the Revere Community School, and her team have leveraged their grant to make an enormous difference in the lives of their adult learners and their families.
About the Revere Community School
The Revere Community School (RCS) was established in 2013 with a mission to unite those in need with community and partner resources that empower its lifelong learners and encourage workforce development. RCS serves a diverse student population from Revere and surrounding communities, working with refugees and immigrants from over 20 countries. What started as a program of 3 ESOL classes has become a hub for over 1000 adult and youth learners enrolling in RCS classes each year.
Drammeh shared that “many of our learners are in need of assistance in English language, technology skills, career-building, and professional skills. We have successfully integrated a continuum of services and moved participants from language development to employment by removing barriers for un- and underemployed immigrants. Our top priority is the success of our learners and communities and giving everyone a fair chance at a better life.”
Courses include English for speakers of other languages, computer literacy, citizenship, job readiness training, financial literacy, and community engagement. In addition to the skills-based lessons, students also learn about American culture and how to communicate with their children and teachers, which can help their children do better in school.
This holistic approach, connecting learners with the resources they need at any step in their journey, sets RCS apart as a partner and reflects the ethos of Drammeh. She has received multiple accolades for her tireless commitment to Revere, including a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Revere earlier this year. With over 30 years’ experience in the fields of social justice, economic development, participatory adult education, and program development, she has been integral in helping Revere residents survive and thrive.
“Fatou’s dedication to the people of Revere is incredible. The way she funnels her passion for the city into action, over and over again, is truly admirable. We are lucky to play a small role in what she and the team at RCS have achieved over the last two years,” lauded Dr. Joseph Spinazzola, Executive Director of the Foundation Trust.
Three-Part Grant from the Foundation Trust
When awarding grants, the Foundation Trust seeks organizations whose missions and activities align strongly with our priority program areas. For the Revere Community School, there was considerable alignment between their work and Foundation Trust Track 1: Overcoming Trauma and Life Adversity and Track 2: Empowering At-Risk Youth and Communities.
“It is our goal to address the learning needs and advance the life prospects of immigrant and refugee adults and youth who are trying to build a new life after experiencing trauma, violence, and other forms of life adversity,” explains Drammeh. “This grant is helping us address the barriers and changing the lives of many immigrant communities in Revere. We are so grateful to the Foundation Trust for contributing to a much-needed expansion and increasing the impact of our programs.”
The two-year Foundation Trust grant supported three of the Revere Community School's core programs: English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), U.S. Citizenship, and Digital Skills.
1. English for Speakers of Other Languages
Many of the learners at the Revere Community School are immigrants whose first language is not English. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes are therefore core to RCS’s approach to helping students improve their language skills, obtain better jobs, and further their education.
Patricia, one of the ESOL teachers shared what she finds rewarding about working with learners at RCS. “I particularly enjoy enabling them to talk to their health providers, employers, customers, children's teachers, and landlords, so that they can have better opportunities to interact in different situations, develop many other skills to the fullest, and ultimately pursue their dreams,” she noted, “I also find it rewarding to provide them with understanding about each other's cultures and backgrounds, by giving every student the chance to share their personal experiences and plans with classmates. Not only do we talk about life in America, but we also talk about each students' backgrounds and past experiences. By doing so, I feel I am providing them with opportunities to understand and respect each other and live their lives in America based on respect and tolerance of everyone else.”
“My time at RCS has been an amazing experience,” shared Fadiala, a Haitian American who has been teaching at RCS since 2018. “One thing I find rewarding is being able to relate to my students and their families culturally. Being Haitian American, I understand the challenges of learning a different language and adjusting in a new country. Many of my students have had to start over to try to make a living for their families. Their strength has motivated me to become a better teacher. Learning about their experiences and being that motivating factor for them has been remarkable.”
The classes are having an impact on students’ everyday lives. Elizabeth, a student at RCS shared that, "when the teacher explains the meaning of the new words, we are learning words that I usually hear but did not know what they really meant, or I was confused about the meaning.”
Mirian, a mom of three originally from El Salvador, added “I improved my English knowledge and now it is easier to communicate at school for my kids. I’m so happy there are programs like this to help people like me with limited time to go to school. I am very happy with the community of Revere and the Foundation Trust for helping people with low income and less opportunities because of language barriers.”
In spite of the clear benefits, enrollment fees for skills-based classes can be a barrier for low-income learners. Therefore, the Foundation Trust grant covered up to the full cost of participation, including tuition and textbooks, for 84 individuals taking English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses, from Intro to Level 4.
2. Citizenship Classes
Within the immigrant population the Revere Community School serves, many are interested in becoming U.S. citizens. “Naturalization is an important step in the civic integration of immigrants into American society,” Drammeh emphasizes. “Our citizenship program helps lawful permanent residents prepare to become US citizens and make America their new home.”
Initially, the goal of the Foundation Trust grant was to fund enrollment of 60 individuals in a U.S. Citizenship class. That target was surpassed during the two-year grant period, with 87 individuals enrolling in the classes, which included practice in English, U.S. history, civics, interviewing, and learning about the N-400 naturalization application. RCS helped prepare 41 applications for U.S citizenship (ongoing) and as of May 2021, 16 had become citizens with another four waiting for their interviews.
“The process of becoming a U.S. citizen can be daunting, so having help preparing for the various steps is invaluable. Congratulations to the new citizens and thanks to RCS for recognizing and meeting this need,” said Lauren Liecau, Manager of the Foundation Trust.
3. Digital Technology
Fatou Drammeh shared details with us from the American Community Survey (2014-2018), noting that 28% of Revere households do not have a computer at home and 23% do not have internet. RCS has endeavored to bridge that gap through their technology program, which prioritizes low-income and underserved populations, seniors and the unemployed. After completing 15-18 hours of training, participants are eligible for a free new Chromebook with a case, mouse, and headphones with a Hotspot or internet service.
“Many of our adult learners do not have access to a computer and internet at home; they use their phone to join classes, which limits their engagement. In our effort to help address the “digital divide” among learners and low-income residents in Revere, we continue to provide access to training and equipment. This assists the participants to access English language resources, career & skills training programs, and employment opportunities that have largely gone digital during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Foundation Trust was honored to support this important program with the purchase of 80 Chromebooks for low-income families.
“Not having a computer or internet access can be a barrier to groups that are already disadvantaged. We saw this exacerbated by the pandemic. Technology skills are essential for students and workers across sectors, and RCS is empowering their learners by providing them with the tools to succeed,” stated Liecau.
Elsa, one of the students in the computer class, reflected on how the lessons she learned at the Revere Community School have supported her professional growth. Originally from Colombia, Elsa worked in the cleaning business and residential maintenance for several years before learning about the Revere Community School’s offerings on Facebook. “I learned several things at the computer class, but especially the slide shows and techniques for a presentation. These are very helpful skills that I have been able to apply in my new career as a real estate agent,” she shared.
Adjusting to Virtual Learning and Bridging the Digital Divide
The Revere Community School remained committed to working with learners and their families throughout the pandemic, shifting to virtual classes to help learners continue their education from the comfort of their homes. In addition to creating a laptop lending library, RCS collaborated with many community organizations, health facilities, funders, and government agencies to address the immediate needs of vulnerable residents.
“The pandemic was devastating for everyone, especially the population and communities we serve, and it brought to light the inequality in education and digital technology,” commented Drammeh. “We know that online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic and will eventually become an integral component of the educational system. As the pandemic accelerates our transformation into a digital world, we are paying attention to equity of access to the online platform.”
“It has been rewarding to see students' resilience as we worked together to create online classes in which they could continue to participate while learning new digital skills. It's always rewarding, too, when students share with me how the class has helped them to communicate better in English in their daily lives,” said Donna, an ESOL and Computer teacher, who added that “I love coming to every class and trying to customize the experience for the students who are in the current class. It's extremely rewarding to see students' increasing levels of confidence as well as fluency, and I enjoy helping them to set and reach goals and connecting them with additional resources to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.”
Fatou Drammeh reflected on what was gained in the shift to more online classes, noting that “for students with internet access, online learning reduces barriers, making learning convenient and increasing access to a large variety of education and enrichment opportunities. Students and their families are able to join classes from anywhere around the world. This allows learners more opportunities to pursue their educational goals. Since we started the remote courses, many of our students and family members have joined our classes from as far away as France, Morocco, Colombia, and Honduras despite the time difference. Parents are joining classes with babies on their laps and others are learning together with children and other family members helping them. By providing online classes and access to technology with resources and support, our program became more accessible and empowering for our learners.”
The Foundation Trust applauds Fatou Drammeh and her team at the Revere Community School on constantly striving, and succeeding, to make such a tremendous difference in the lives of some of our community’s most vulnerable residents.
To learn more about Revere Community School, the resources they offer, and ways to support their important work, visit: https://sites.google.com/rpsk12.org/revere-community-school
To help extend the reach of the Foundation Trust's philanthropic initiatives and resource development, visit: https://www.foundationtrust.org/donate/