In one room, 5- and 6-year-old children work at individual computers, their brows drawn down and their lips pursed in concentration. Behind them, bright red paper poinsettias dot the walls.
Nearby, second-grade children sit around tables in small groups, working on assignments and laughing quietly. They've colored reindeer heads, which hang festively overhead.The scenes are similar in the first- and third-grade classes - a happy mix of concentration and holiday glee.
This is the new, improved Guadalupe School, where board members conducted public tours Wednesday. The school moved in November to 340 S. Goshen, property rented from the Catholic Diocese of Utah.
"The children are excited because this is a real school," said Frank Dunne, president of the board of directors. "The kids react terrifically to the new environment. The old building wasn't a school building. (The building on Goshen was built as a school, then later used as a police station before Guadalupe School moved in.) Their friends went to `real' schools. Now they do, too."
The Guadalupe Center was established in 1966 and in the past two decades has evolved into two programs. The Early Learning Center program is a nondenominational school for children in kindergarten through third grade who come from low-income families.
"The big difficulty is a lot of the parents don't have the skills to help the children with school work at home. Many of the parents of our students haven't finished high school. Or they work and don't have time," Dunne said. "We provide really excellent, intensive teaching - much of it one-on-one."
The school has about 10 students to each teacher, plus volunteers from the community who work with the children. Emphasis for the students is placed on English and speaking and writing skills, according to Dunne. About one-fourth of the families served are immigrants. All of the children have been predicted to fail in the regular school system without special help. Guadalupe School is a fully accredited alternative school within the Salt Lake School District.
"Parents are very supportive; the whole community is. The parents want their children here and know that the school demands 100 percent attendance unless a child is very sick. They make sure their children get to school," Dunne said. "The younger we get a child started on this kind of program, the easier it is to bring them up to speed."
The Voluntary Improvement Program is for adults. Most of the participants are immigrants who have little or poor English skills. Every Tuesday and Thursday they meet with community volunteers who have been specially trained. Together, they study "survival" English: how to read signs, use coins, etc.
One of the volunteers told of a man who walked from his apartment in the Avenues across town to work every morning because he couldn't read the bus signs, and he didn't know the fare cost. The program, which usually has more than 150 adults in it, has given him an extra three hours a day.
"Growing and expanding like this has been wonderful. We're proud of our programs," said Freddie Nebeker, director of development. "We feel we can do something to prevent some of the real problems."
Guadalupe Center relies on grants and contracts, including the United Way, for about 52 percent of its operating costs. The rest comes from fund-raising events and private donations.