Francis Center helps children with reading, math skills

Tue, Mar 24th 2015 11:00 am
Sister Betty Neumeister, OSF, director of the Francis Center, spends time with a child at the center's after school program in Niagara Falls. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)
Sister Betty Neumeister, OSF, director of the Francis Center, spends time with a child at the center's after school program in Niagara Falls. (Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer)

The Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity at Stella Niagara are providing an after-school tutoring program for young children in Niagara Falls.

Since 1997, the Francis Center has enabled second and third grade children in the Niagara Falls' inner city public schools to attend free, organized tutoring programs to boost skills in reading, language arts and math, areas of study New York state places special emphasis on with the updated Common Core standards for students.

"We have a very structured program," Sister Betty Neumeister, OSF, the Francis Center's director, said. "We work to increase children's reading and math skills. First, we help children with their homework, and afterwards we work to reinforce math and reading skills. Our children must come to us four days a week in order to continue in the program."

Students must attend from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, students are offered a program where the children participate in music, painting, work with clay and other fine arts activities. Artists come to work with the children on particular art skills for five consecutive Fridays.

In addition to helping students improve their test scores and improve reading and math skills, the Francis Center also gives children a place to explore their creativity. Activities include a homework club, a "Hooked on Books" program where adults read books to the children, a "Kindness Club" once a week and a summer program to keep skills sharp during the summer months.

The center is open to children of all backgrounds and faiths. "When we first started," Sister Betty said, "we did a needs assessment in the inner city of Niagara Falls, to determine what was most needed. One of the big needs was work with children - day care, latchkey, help with homework."

The center now includes both the sisters and wonderful volunteers, many of whom are former teachers.  Niagara University students, who are studying to receive degrees in teaching, and students in other fields at NU also work with children under the supervision of three experienced teachers.

Francis Center began in a neighborhood home of the sisters. From there, the program continued until it outgrew that location and is now housed in the old St. Stan's School, at Divine Mercy Parish.

Sister Betty believes that in order to get out of poverty, children need a good education. The center serves only second and third graders because these are the ages by which it is most crucial that students are able to read effectively. One statistic Sister Betty uses when writing grants states unless a child is reading at grade level by the end of third grade, there is a chance the child will not graduate from high school, which remains a dire issue since education is the main way people are able to get out of poverty.

"The children love to come," Sister Betty said. They get their homework finished, and then they can go home and relax after a full day in school. We have tested children at the end of the school year, and we have actual test results which prove that in addition to what the school is doing, we are helping children to improve.  We know Francis Center works".

Additionally, parents are grateful for the chance to learn from people who are familiar with the Common Core standards, particularly the math, which is difficult for parents. The Francis Center helps children from several community schools in Niagara Falls, which Sister Betty said includes Niagara Street School, Henry J. Kalfas Magnet School and Hyde Park Elementary School.

The center does not take more than 30 children each year, to give each child the individual attention that he or she needs to succeed. Although Sister Betty sees how the children improve in the important subjects of reading and math, she also sees how they improve in crucial interpersonal skills as well, which is equally important, if not more so.

"Children improve in their relationships with one another, which is very important here in the city," said Sister Betty.  "Children become more conscious of respecting one another, more aware of good manners, and more aware of helping one another. I find serving at the center very rewarding."

For more information or to make a donation call the Francis Center at 716-284-2050, or visit

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