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‘“So how did this program get its start, and when are you expanding to _____________?” I get that question fairly regularly and thought I should put the response down on (electronic) paper in case there was a broader audience with that query.

A Brief History: About five and a half years ago, fellow Zach Johnson Foundation Board member Pat Baird, and I went on a listening tour. We sat down with non-profit CEO’s like the United Way of East Central Iowa’s Lois Buntz, and principals like Taylor Elementary School’s Brian Christoffersen. Pat also attended a community forum about what schools could do to narrow the achievement gap. I had some research about poverty in Cedar Rapids and strategies that have worked in communities like ours. So we put all that together and came up with a general plan:

We wanted to serve children and families as partners, not clients. We wanted to work within schools and alongside staff who were experts in education and child development. The rest was pretty simple: we wanted this program to do whatever it takes for kids to succeed.

The start of the school year in 2011 at Harrison and Van Buren Elementary Schools was the beginning of a three year pilot of Kids on Course. Staff members were housed within the schools and worked to forge relationships with families.

Now we’ve expanded to Grant Elementary School and will embark on middle school next school year. In five years we will have grown from two schools and fewer than 100 kids in the program, to five schools with more than 700 students involved.

Expanding to _____________: In the past month I’ve received three emails from people asking us to please consider expanding to their school or town. While that request is certainly flattering, it often leaves us feeling helpless. We don’t have a magic potion to ease all the ills that come with poverty, disenfranchisement, loss of hope or opportunity. And we’d love to support all schools who have a need, but we’re constrained by reality. But we will share what we’ve learned with anyone who asks!

We think our strategy is special because we build on families’ strengths, boost the work of educators, and surround children with support and enrichment. But our strategy requires a highly skilled staff and funding to execute the program. Almost all of our money comes from the Zach Johnson Foundation, to which we are incredibly grateful. The generosity of Zach, Kim and the Cedar Rapids community, means our staff doesn’t fund-raise.  It costs about $200,000 per school, per year, to fully replicate the Kids on Course model. Here’s what that amount covers for just one school, and one school year (including summer):

  • Two full time staff members
  • two full time AmeriCorps Members
  • About 30 independent contractors to lead enrichment activities
  • After school tutoring program
  • Late bus and cab expenses to transport kids to all Kids on Course activities
  • Monthly Family Night (free dinner and activities at school)
  • 6-week academic summer camp called Kids on Course University

If your school, church, community group, city council, etc. is interested in bringing some tenants of Kids on Course to children and families please let me know. I’m happy to share our strategies and support you with technical support in getting there. We are delighted to share what we’ve learned.