November 28, 2018

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



November 19, 2018

Shining Light

The air, the breeze and laughter in the air – everything about today marks a traditional autumn day. Rewind eight months ago in the middle of winter and I was visiting Grant Elementary School for the first time to meet my Kids on Course Page Pal student. A spunky and spirited Kindergarten student. She loved to read, “I Don’t Want to Be a Frog” by Dev Petty. She was excited to see me every week, share updates on her siblings and tell me about her cat’s new tricks. Over the course of four months we read the frog book two dozen times, practiced sight words and played letter games. We learned about each other’s families, favorite foods and birthdays.


The best part of my Page Pal experience was my student’s smile. She was a shining light every Monday and the best part of all – she inspired me to change career paths. Previously, I worked in an office, at a great company, surrounded by wonderful team members. I found a new calling to impact students, particularly those who need additional mentors, enrichments, reading support and an additional friendly face in their everyday.

I now have the privilege to be the shining light to our students at Harrison Elementary. It is a rewarding experience to see their enthusiasm reflecting back to myself and the Kids on Course team during Learning Lab, in the cafeteria, gym, hallways, library and of course – the playground!

To my original Page Pal – thank you for shining your light into my life!

– Sarah Watson, Harrison Site Manager

May 25, 2018


The last few days of the school year means I have to use all my mom super powers to get my kids to just go to school. They’re ages 11, 14 and 17 and seem to have early cases of senioritis. For them, summer is an endless stretch of sleeping in, camps filled with friends and canoeing, plus at least one vacation where they’ll ride frightening roller coasters and swim until they’re human prunes. That wasn’t what all my summers looked like growing up.

I was alone many days of the summer. Our apartment only had one window unit AC and I’d park myself in front of it. My mom worked and after fourth grade I was on my own in the steamy St. Louis months of June, July and August. As an only child I spent a lot of time watching TV, re-reading Baby-Sitter Club Books, and counting down the days until school started. My kids wouldn’t recognize my life when I was their ages.

That personal experience of loneliness and boredom over the summer, combined with the hard evidence that children can lose up to three months of reading and math skills over the summer, are why Kids on Course has so much to offer over the long break. If low income children had access to high quality learning over the summer, two-thirds of the nation’s achievement gap would disappear.

Kids on Course University is a seven-week summer camp designed specifically for kindergarten through fourth graders in the Cedar Rapids Community School District who need a boost in reading. Last summer we had more than 750 students attend! This free experience combines high quality instruction from certified teachers with fun, food and field trips. And the results show that students who attended Kids on Course University had seven times the reading growth over the summer as those who were invited, but didn’t attend.

Scholar Camp is our summer program for middle school students who attend Roosevelt and Wilson. When we first started Scholar Camp we weren’t sure any kids would show up. Let’s be real, middle schoolers aren’t known for enjoying getting up early and heading to school… especially when they don’t have to. So we were stunned when we saw our attendance numbers. Last summer, more than 160 sixth, seventh and eighth graders spent five weeks learning how to analyze news articles, create projects, practice math skills and read hundreds of novels. Middle school kids apparently love being with their friends, learning while having fun, and getting a free meal in the process.

For the first time in Kids on Course history we’ll have students entering high school in our program. These 14 year olds started with us when they were seven. We’ve been there for homeruns and fraction frustrations, first crushes and first finals. This summer we wanted an experience that would last with them forever, while also preparing them for the rigors and rules of high school. We decided to craft a three-pronged summer experience: volunteering, traveling, and back-to-school-boot-camp. Volunteering means each Kids on Course rising ninth grader will spend one week alongside elementary school students at Kids on Course University. They’ll be mentoring and helping kids who need the same support they needed as youngsters. The travel part will be a learning experience combined with an exciting opportunity to experience a new city: Chicago! This three-day whirlwind excursion is filled with studies in the arts, history and architecture of the third biggest city in the United States. This trip is something students had to earn with good school attendance and commitment to Kids on Course. Finally, they’ll be ending their summer by going back to school before any other high school students. They’ll learn study skills and explore the extra-curricular opportunities available as freshmen. And we’ve partnered with the Iowa College Access Network to help students assess their own career interests and goals so they can start working now for a future of their design. At the end of this boot camp every Kids on Course ninth grader will have a resume they’ll build on throughout high school, knowledge about what GPA they’ll need to reach their career goals, and connections to the opportunities in sports, arts and clubs to keep them positively engaged throughout high school.

Summer in Kids on Course is one of the busiest times of the year. It’s also when we host our huge fundraiser and community event: The Zach Johnson Foundation Classic. Everyone is invited to join us on Monday, July 9th at Elmcrest Country Club as we cheer on Zach and his fellow PGA TOUR professionals and celebrities. This free one-day event is filled with golf, entertainment and lots of love as it raises money to keep Kids on Course’s tutoring, mentoring, enrichment and summer programming 100% free for our families!

– By Beth Malicki, Kids on Course Program Leader

May 15, 2018

Summer, Finally!

Brace yourselves. Summer is coming.

Contrary to popular belief, Kids on Course staff do not spend our whole summer sunning ourselves poolside. From June 18 – August 3, our elementary staff we work at Kids on Course University (KCU), a seven-week academic summer program designed to help students maintain and grow their reading and math skills.


Kids on Course University is a great change of pace and setting for both students and staff. Students work on their academic skills in classes with a 15-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio. They also do many fun enrichment and STEM activities and go on field trips every week!

Last summer, Van Buren, Harrison, and Grant students gathered each day at Harrison Elementary. Mr. Wertz, the summer enrichment leader, came up with many great ideas to keep kids engaged: making slime, designing and building fidget spinners, and a gym scooter derby.

Even though Kids on Course University has a fun summer camp vibe, the goal is serious: to prevent summer reading loss. Students who participated in KCU in 2017 grew 7 times more in reading than their peers who did not participate. The small classes with a certified teacher have proven to be highly effective.


Kids on Course elementary staff have a blast spending the summer with kids. We play hard at recess. We help struggling students. We support teachers. We go on field trips (Seeing Cars 3 with 150 kids, yes please). We deliver weekend food bags. We communicate with parents about how their kids are doing at KCU.

The best part of KCU is spending more time with the students. The kids work hard all summer and it is rewarding to see them grow more confident in their reading and math going into the new school year.


– Greg White, Van Buren Site Manager