Supporting Student Growth – Even in a Pandemic St. John’s Local and Global School Partnerships

Isenberg Dual Language Immersion kindergarteners practice social distancing.

By Karen Puckett

Most people’s lives and routines have changed since the onset of the pandemic. Whether here in the United States, or in far-away places, many have suffered loss of social interaction, security, and health. Many have also found ways to cope and continue living life in spite of challenges inherent in a world that requires the uncomfortable reality of social distancing.  

Possibly, nowhere have the challenges been felt more than by our learners and students here and overseas. Schools scramble to discover how to balance important health and safety measures while continuing to ensure that students are nurtured academically, physically, and emotionally. Two of St. John’s partner organizations are experiencing such challenges and developing innovative ways to meet them.

Isenberg Garden

Isenberg Elementary School

St. John’s has been in partnership with Isenberg Elementary School since 2015 with the creation of the “Gator Reading Club.” (St. Johns’ Strategic Plan includes a commitment to “help break the cycle of poverty in Rowan County.”) This reading program focuses on third grade students who tested just below grade level in reading and pairs them with St. John’s volunteers twice weekly for 45 minutes each session. As over 90% of Isenberg’s students are living in poverty,  based on federal guidelines, these tutoring sessions provide a crucial intervention that has consistently enabled students to make growth on their state reading tests. Please visit to view a message from Isenberg’s Principal, Nicholas Anderson.

When schools were closed by North Carolina’s stay-at-home order in March, volunteers were no longer able to enter the school building to work with Isenberg’s students. Students received online remote instruction from their regular teachers during this time up until the end of the school year.

Fortunately, St. John’s is continuing its presence at Isenberg. The St. John’s Endowment fund provided funding for over 150 new library books for Isenberg’s Media Center and late last spring, several church members provided furnishings for an Isenberg family that was moving from a shelter to a permanent home. Once schools can safely return to normal, the Gator Reading Club will resume.

On a hybrid live instruction/virtual instruction schedule, Isenberg’s learners rotate attending school physically two days a week and virtually three days. In order to maintain academic growth, students receive and submit instruction via learning management systems called SeeSaw and Canvas. Students who need a helping hand in reading and math receive targeted interventions 2 to 3 times a week. Staff members maintain virtual “office hours” where students can call in via Zoom to check in with their teachers regarding coursework or with the school Guidance Counselor for social and emotional learning needs.

In order to provide students with enrichment experiences, Isenberg continues its emphasis on global competencies and team-building endeavors. As part of its global focus, Isenberg is in its second year of a Dual Language Immersion program. Other extracurricular experiences continue to be provided such as Student Government Association, K-Kids (Kiwanis Kids), spirit week, virtual parties, and cultivation of a school garden through a partnership with Happy Roots.

Isenberg’s PTA continues to actively take steps to enrich the school environment. Currently, the PTA is raising funds to purchase an Isenberg sweatshirt for each of its 305 students. Sweatshirts are $30 each, with part of the proceeds going to the PTA for parent and student engagement activities.

If you would like to help sponsor a sweatshirt for a child, please make a $30 tax deductible donation to the Isenberg PTA and mail to Nicholas Anderson, Isenberg Elementary School, 2800 Jake Alexander Blvd. N., Salisbury, NC  28147.

Sudan Rowan Mayar John Panthou instructor at the Gumriak school

South Sudan

As part of St. John’s global ministries for over 10 years, Sudan Rowan has, with the help of St. John’s Endowment fund, been instrumental in establishing the Gumriak and Nyarweng Primary Schools as the #1 and #4 performing primary schools in Ruweng State, a region of South Sudan where historically 90% of adults cannot read. Although schools are closed and not expected to open before early to mid 2021, the South Sudanese government permits primary school teachers to initiate targeted education support during COVID-19 so that educational gains are not lost to the pandemic.

In September, Sudan Rowan received Endowment funds to provide partial support so that teachers can provide specialized small group tutoring for Grades 7-8 (the two years that lead to all-important national exams and secondary school placements) and receive professional development to improve lesson plans in anticipation of the 2021 academic year. Also, 15 graduates (5 girls and 10 boys) of Gumriak and Nyarweng Primary Schools are the only students from Ruweng State who attend private secondary schools (high schools) – a huge honor! Due to school closures, they need tutoring to maintain academic progress, including virtual access to curricular content via radios, solar-charged tablets/laptops with English as a Second Language content (ESL), a desktop computer, and printer for written exercises.

In addition, Sudan Rowan plans to resume providing support to Angela Nyangok Ngor, a South Sudanese college student who is studying in Uganda. One of Angela’s educational goals is to return to her tribal family and help provide opportunities for literacy and to encourage girls to receive an education.

Donations can be mailed to Sudan Rowan at 576 Adrian Road, Salisbury, NC  28146.  Donations to any of St. Johns’ International Ministry partners can be made directly to the church with the specific ministry (Bethlehem, Guatemala, or South Sudan) designation on the check memo.


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