A Look into Van Buren Elementary

I grew up in the Cedar Rapids school district and still remember the Grant Wood Elementary school song with the line, “Our blue-ribbon school – the best in all the land.” Iowa has long been known as a leader in education, and the state even hands out report cards for each school every year.

In the almost 20 years since I was a “Little Warrior from Grant Wood School” (side note, I can’t decide if it’s sad or awesome that I still remember the school song from when I was 10), school districts across the state are seeing falling reading and math scores and those report cards are more often reflecting grades that frustrate educators and parents alike.

While schools are managing tighter budgets in more challenging environments than two decades ago, the goal is the same: prepare children for an awesome future. That’s exactly what Kids on Course is here to accomplish. We work with the schools and provide extra learning support, mentors, enrichment opportunities and even college scholarships.

The school where I work, Van Buren Elementary, has a vibrant student population and staff who are dedicated to the children and families they serve. I love coming to work and hearing all the different languages these students speak with their families and friends, and how they’re growing in their English skills. One in four students at Van Buren speaks a language other than English at home, and some of them speak two or three other languages before they started learning English! This is why they don’t call these students English as Second Language students, or ESL, anymore. The new term is English Language Learners, which most educators refer to as ELL.

While I’ve been aware of the struggles of the English Language Learner population at Van Buren, it was put directly on my radar just a few weeks ago. We were in the peak of enrollment for our Kids on Course Learning Lab program, and enrollment packets were flying off my desk about as fast as I could print them. One day a fifth-grade teacher approached me in the hallway asking about one of her students. After having had success in the program last year he was given multiple packets, and they had not been brought back. The issue we were experiencing is that neither of his parents speak English, and as it was not his first language, he couldn’t read it well enough to translate the packet for them. If they were having these issues with our materials, one can only imagine the struggles his family faces on a daily basis with communications from the schools.

We were able to get this student enrolled in the program with some help from the administrators at Van Buren. This school year he will receive 40 hours of reading and math help from a certified teacher at our after-school Learning Lab. He’s one of the 160 children who will receive free tutoring and enrichment at Van Buren Elementary this year through Kids on Course.

One of the things that Kids on Course does best is providing a voice for those who would otherwise not have one. With the addition of Latino Family Liaison Jasmin Sanchez to the Kids on Course team, we are able to provide help and resources to Spanish-speaking families at Van Buren. Thanks to the tireless work of dedicated tutors and staff, this Van Buren student is building the skills to reach his potential and better connect his whole family to our community.

– Jerry Logan, Kids on Course Site Manager