By 1912, the city of Lawrence was the epicenter of worsted goods in the United States. But the conditions for the tens of thousands of workers who manned the mills – many of them young immigrants from dozens of different countries – were bleak. That winter, female Polish weavers at the Everett Mill walked off the job to protest a recent pay cut, which would leave many of their families starving.
Soon, nearly 25,000 mill workers walked off the job in what became known as the Bread and Roses Strike.
It was a turning point for the city of Lawrence, and thanks to the Summer Academy at the Community Day Charter Public School, dozens of Lawrence middle school students are learning all about this historic event that came to shape their hometown.
Funded by Essex County Community Foundation’s Greater Lawrence Summer Fund (GLSF), the Summer Academy hosts approximately 180 vulnerable K-8 grade Community Day Charter Public School students for an intensive four-week program that provides unique academic instruction and support designed to help prevent summer learning loss.
And on a beautiful summer morning on July 24, it was the first stop for the Foundation’s annual GLSF site visits, which provide ECCF donors, fundholders and friends the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the good work GLSF-funded nonprofits are doing every day to better our communities. The Greater Lawrence Summer Fund focuses on closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for thousands of low-income youth in greater Lawrence each year by supporting high-quality enrichment activities during the summer months.
At the Summer Academy, site visit attendees were given the chance to view some of the final projects middle school students created from what they learned about the Bread and Roses Strike.
One group of students made a diorama of the mill buildings and water wheel. Another created a Power Point presentation. And a third group crafted a mock news report of the event. And through these projects, students were able to connect with Lawrence’s past.
“It’s so amazing to see students delving into a subject and the creativity with which they express the new things they are learning,” said Carol Lavoie Schuster, ECCF’s vice president for grants and services. “But not only are they learning and gaining new skills, they’re also having fun.”
The same could be said for students of the Summer STEAM Program at Esperanza Academy, an independent, all-girls middle school with a mission to inspire Lawrence students to become active learners and responsible global citizens.
There, students entering grades 5-8 participate in a varied summer program that includes a combination of outdoor education and innovative, hands-on STEAM projects. The Esperanza summer program – the second stop on the tour – focuses on reducing summer learning loss and often works with other GLSF-funded programs.
This summer, rising seventh graders are working with Windrush Farm, a therapeutic equestrian program, and Groundwork Lawrence, a local nonprofit with an urban agriculture and farm education program. Rising sixth graders are joining Theater in the Open in Newburyport, a community theater with the mission of providing equal access to the arts. Newly enrolled fifth graders stay on campus and participate in traditional STEAM activities, while rising eighth graders will continue their work with the Graduate Support Program, which supports students through high school and college.
Melanie, a recent Esperanza graduate who will be attending the Brooks School in North Andover in the fall, took site visit attendees on a tour of the school, where books and artwork are abundant around every turn: a learning environment clearly meant to inspire independent thinking and creativity.
During the tour, attendees learned about Esperanza’s small class size and progressive curriculum. And while all over the City, crews still work to repair the damage caused by the Sept. 13, 2018 gas crisis, Melanie spoke about the effects it had on Esperanza students.
“We really saw the community come together to fight for their rights and homes,” she said. “It was scary, but powerful.”
“Immigrant families are resilient. The gas explosions just reinforced those values,” said Head of School Jadihel Taveras, a Lawrence native who exudes passion for his work. Tavares talked about the trauma-based care he and his staff infused into the curriculum following the crisis.
Next, site visit attendees visited the Lawrence Family Development, Inc. SISU Center, home to the SISU Youth Development Program Summer Adventures, which serves 50-60 underserved young people between the ages of 14-24 each year. These youth are among the most at risk in the City. They have either dropped out of high school or are at risk for dropping out. Most are involved with gangs and guns and have a history with law enforcement.
SISU is often the last resort for these young people, who are referred to the program by police or their own families. SISU provides counseling, life skills, education resources, job training and more. Rival gang members must learn to co-exist within the program. And SISU works with them to develop the social emotional skills that will allow these youth to become powerful forces for good and change.
Site visit attendees met with Paul Heithaus, the director of program development at Lawrence Family Development, for an overview of the SISU program and tour of the facility, which includes classrooms, a basketball court, rock climbing wall, barber shop space where participants can learn to cut hair and soon, a commercial kitchen for additional job training.
Heithaus explained that the program is unique because not many others are equipped to deal with the behaviors of and issues facing these young people, 98 percent of whom come from low-income families. And while the program focuses on young adults, Heithaus said if more funding was available, they would expand the program to kids as young as 10, as local gangs are eager to recruit younger members who are more likely to avoid jail time.
A program that is able to reach younger kids – and the last stop on the site visit tour – was Sueños Basketball, a nonprofit founded in 2015 that uses the summer months to teach children in grades 3-6 the fundamentals of basketball.
While guests were able to see the kids in action on the court, it soon became clear that the Skills and Drills program is about so much more than the game of basketball. It’s also about the fundamentals of life.
During a break, gathered around their coach in the shade, the group talked about the importance of a person’s character off the court. Today’s focus was on honesty.
To make the program accessible to as many kids as possible, Skills and Drills is held at the various public housing projects in the communities of Lawrence, Andover and Methuen. Sueños youth leaders – who act as mentors to the kids – lead the basketball drills on the court. But kids are not only taught to dribble and pass, they also learn valuable lessons on determination and the importance of hard work.
Additionally, guest speakers from the community share with the kids their personal stories about overcoming challenges and developing resiliency. The focus is on topics such as education, sports, decision-making, substance abuse and healthy relationships. State Representative, Frank Moran, who grew up in Lawrence and represents the 17th Essex District consisting of precincts in Andover, Lawrence and Methuen, was one of those recent guest speakers.
For site visit attendee Julie Rose, this was the second time she has toured nonprofit programs with ECCF, and she expressed the value of this in-depth look at the work happening in our local communities.
“It was a wonderful experience learning more about the resiliency of the Lawrence community, and the amazing programs that are offered,” she said.
To learn more about the Greater Lawrence Summer Fund, visit eccf.org/glsf.