The Vera Court Neighborhood Center, which has been no stranger to tackling the odds, is gearing up to overcome a new hurdle: eliminating the achievement gap for the center’s youth by the year 2020.
On Monday, the 22-year-old center broke ground on a building expansion that will double its size and publicly launched a $2.2 million campaign to fund the expansion and an increase in educational services called Vera Vision 2020.
“It is our vision that all of our students are reading at grade level and graduating high school,” said VCNC Executive Director Thomas Solyst. “The racial achievement gap is a critical issue in our community but our children are committed to achieving their educational goals.”
At the time of the center’s opening, the surrounding area was considered synonymous with drugs use and crime, but over two decades later the area has made a drastic improvement thanks to grassroots efforts and large-scale city involvement. The Vera Court Neighborhood Center has been at the heart of most of that transformation.
1988, 1989, 1990, were not the best years for the Vera Court neighborhood, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said during Monday’s ceremony.
“My guess is that if we’d asked most of the residents ‘if you could live somewhere else would you’, the would’ve said yes, but what was really critical is that most of them were committed to making Vera Court the best neighborhood in the city,” Soglin said.
Though the neighborhood has improved it is not immune to Dane County’s wide achievement gap. At Mendota Elementary, the local elementary school, only 12 percent of African American students are proficient in reading and 7 percent in math. Sixty-one percent of VCNC students are Black or African American and 26 percent are Hispanic. Almost all of them — 95 percent — are considered low-income.
The VCNC is now striving to bring students to grade level or above in both reading and math, as well as ensuring that eighth graders are prepared for high school and high school seniors graduate with a plane for their future. In order to reach their three-year goal, the center is raising $2.2 million to provide more in-depth literacy training, such as one-on-one tutoring.
The funds will also contribute to the expanding the center to include two new classrooms, additional office space, and a multipurpose room that will accommodate more students. Fifty-six percent of the fundraising goal has already been met and renovations to the center’s kitchen, flooring, and computer lab have already been completed.
“This expansion will allow us to have additional program space, it will allow us to hire additional staff,” said Solyst. “We’re going to be able to have more literacy tutors, more books, more IT equipment.”
Vera Court officials said the expansion project is intended to be completed in September and new programming will be available in the fall.