A Promise to Keep

In end-of-year school principal meetings, Little Bit Senior Program Manager Pam Braasch says there’s been one common theme among the feedback she’s received: Little Bit never stopped! These meetings, held at the end of every regular school year, are a review of the partnership – successes, areas for improvement, additional supports needed – and how well Little Bit is contributing to school goals. “I’ve heard from so many principals about how grateful and impressed they are that there were never any gaps in our services this year,” says Braasch. “I’m so proud of our team and Little Bit’s ongoing response during the pandemic. Not delivering on our promise was never an option.”

Most schools adopted a hybrid model for the year, says Braasch, giving parents the option to send their student(s) to school or learn from home. In the school partnerships under her purview – St. Louis Public Schools and city charter schools – an average 30% of parents chose in-person learning at the beginning of the year, she says, increasing to a little more than half by the fourth quarter.

“Our biggest struggle became getting services to the students learning virtually, and so we relied on several methods,” she says. Little Bit ensured that teachers and counselors making frequent trips to students’ homes had the essential items requested by their parents, or had them available for pick-up, and also reached virtual students through dozens of mass distribution events, including drive-up book fairs. Additionally, students and their families were served with direct delivery of food and essentials through the Feeding Hope program. For assistance outside of Little Bit’s scope – rent, utilities, etc. – referrals were made to other mission partners, such as St. Vincent de Paul, who provided over $110,000 in services to Little Bit families this school year.

“Children can feed off the stresses that the family is under, impacting their behavior and academic performance. I always say that you have to be well to do well,” says Mildred Moore, Principal of Walbridge STEAM Academy. “It’s important for us to be there for parents as well, and Little Bit has been a constant source of support for them in helping to provide for basic needs.”

Moore adds that Little Bit never missed a beat in responding to the need this year. “Our students participated in Laura’s Run 4 Kids in April – which was so exciting for all of us – and Pam zeroed in on a student that was running in slippers. Another of our virtual students who came that day for the Run had outgrown all of her clothes. Pam immediately called in orders for shoes and clothing.”

In addition to the essentials, Little Bit stepped up in the area of academic support this year, says Braasch, engaging 100 volunteer tutors – including many from SLU’s Overground Railroad group – to assist about 200 students in math and reading. “There’s a lot of catching up for many students, and this has become a crucial part of our services.” While results are still coming in, Braasch says one school provided a report that pointed to tutoring as a direct contributor to an average 18% increase in reading scores across all classes. Tutoring will continue through summer school.

Braasch is equally proud that Little Bit extends support to the wider community through in-school and mobile food markets, in partnership with St. Louis Area Foodbank. “We’ve had so many people say to us, ‘OMG, I don’t know what I’d do without you here today’ or ‘I can’t believe you’re standing in the rain for us,’” she says. “Sure makes it all worthwhile.”