Trenton, NJ: Mercer Street Friends, a nonprofit whose mission supports local families through comprehensive food and education programs, hosted an award ceremony and luncheon to recognize achievement in reading for first through third grade students at Benjamin C. Gregory Elementary School in Trenton, New Jersey.
On Wednesday, May 24, more than 60 students and families gathered in the school’s gymnasium for speeches, awards, and lunch. Speakers included: Bernadette Trapp, Director of Community Schools at Mercer Street Friends; Bernie Flynn, CEO, Mercer Street Friends; Jeannette Harris, Principal, Gregory Elementary School; Superintendent James Earle, Trenton Public School District; Teska Frisby, West Ward Councilwoman and City Council President.
Mercer Street Friends’ Reading Intervention Program was born during the pandemic, in partnership with Gregory Elementary School Principal, Jeannette Harris, as a result of an obvious need for small group reading support.
“When we learned from Principal Harris there was a significant number of students impacted from the changes in schooling during COVID, many of whom were reading below grade level, we knew we had to get to work,” said Bernie Flynn, former CEO of NJM Insurance Group who has volunteered his time as the CEO of Mercer Street Friends since February 2020.
In partnership with Principal Jeannette Harris, Mercer Street Friends secured financial support from the Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF) to launch the program. “In so many ways PACF rose to the challenge presented by the pandemic, from attacking food insecurity to ensuring that creative literacy programs were provided with necessary seed funding,” Flynn stated.
Flynn thanked Principal Harris for her partnership and credited her with increasing awareness of the need for reading intervention programs across the Trenton Public School District.
Mercer Street Friends’ reading intervention initiative began as a simple program while school was virtual, and has since evolved into a robust Reading Intervention Program coordinated and staffed by Mercer Street Friends with the goal of ensuring first through third grade students are reading at grade level proficiency and above.
Director of Community Schools at Mercer Street Friends, Bernadette Trapp, is particularly proud of this program, “To date, the results have been extraordinary. At the start of the program, more than 50% of the students at Gregory were reading below grade level. Here we are today awarding 60+ students for their growth and achievement.”
Mercer Street Friends’ Reading Specialists meet with small groups of students four times per week for 30 minutes. “Our specialists identify students’ weaknesses in phonics and reading comprehension, and then create strategies to help students avoid those errors,” explained Trapp.
Principal Harris expressed her gratitude and her enthusiasm for the tangible success of the program, “The primary job of the [school] is to ensure our children learn how to read. It’s a fundamental life skill.
I am thankful that Mercer Street Friends believed in my vision and gave me the autonomy to create a program that fit our school.”
Harris continued, “thank you Mercer Street Friends for this outstanding partnership – it is working. My children are reading. Not only are they reading, they are excelling.”
Superintendent Earl remarked on the positive impact the programming has on the district, “We see great things happening with Mercer Street Friends supporting young people inside and outside of our schools.”
Gregory Elementary is part of Mercer Street Friends’ Community Schools initiative in the Trenton Public School District. Mercer Street Friends provides comprehensive educational opportunities in addition to social, emotional, physical and mental health support to students and families year-round, including summer programming.
West Ward Councilwoman and City Council President, Teska Frisby, voiced her commitment to the community recognizing the importance of active engagement and collaboration on multiple levels to support district children saying, “many hands make for light work.”
The outstanding work of Mercer Street Friends’ dedicated Reading Intervention Specialists was mentioned throughout the event. Several students took the opportunity to express their gratitude through written reflections and warm hugs.
In addition to Gregory, Mercer Street Friends leads two other Trenton-based Community Schools; Luis Muñoz-Rivera Elementary School, where the organization provides Site Coordinators, Case Managers and Reading Interventionists, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School with Site Coordinators and Case Managers.
ABOUT MERCER STREET FRIENDS
As a Quaker-affiliated, nonsectarian 501(c)(3) organization, Mercer Street Friends is dedicated to nourishing minds and bodies, empowering families and communities by providing comprehensive programs to address poverty and the physical and emotional trauma it creates for children, families and the community. Their work is focused on three critical areas: food, families, and education. To learn more about Mercer Street Friends, visit mercerstreetfriends.org.