February 29, 2016

Cedar River Soccer Association


I remember when I was a second grader waking up on Saturday mornings, throwing on my reversible red and blue YMCA soccer shirt, strapping up shin guards, chugging a Gatorade and heading out to the soccer park to play on my rec soccer team. I don’t remember scoring many goals or playing goalie, but I remember fun with friends and the feeling of racing down the field. In high school, I played on an indoor team with a group of youth Kurdish refugees from Iraq. I was the only kid on the team whose first language was English, but regardless of our cultural and language differences, we both shared a love for soccer.

In the United States, I would use one word to describe our relationship with soccer: passion. As an adult, you have to be truly passionate to find somewhere to play soccer. In the past, you had to be passionate enough to pay ridiculous amounts of money for special soccer channels. You have to be passionate enough to play pick up games with total strangers.

Passion is how I would describe Van Buren kids and soccer. At 11:25 am on any day of the week, fourth and fifth grade recess coalesces into a huge game of soccer. They play on a windswept hill right outside the school. On hot days, the kids come in from this game sweating and huffing. On cold days, they blow warm breath into their shivering hands and play on.

Kids on Course has provided after school recreational soccer enrichment classes for these kids since the beginning. But we are now proud to partner with the Cedar River Soccer Association (CRSA) to provide kids with a professionally run soccer academy experience.

CRSA reached out to Kids on Course, to provide kids who would otherwise not have the opportunity to play club soccer, a chance to join CRSA. Some of these kids have not played soccer in a formal setting before, but have endless hours of “street ball” under their belt. This formal experience can hone their raw skills and talent.

Alen Kudumovic, Director of Coaching, and Jason Witt, a Professional Coach with CRSA, have been very welcoming and gracious to work with as we get our students involved. There are currently 15 KOC students from Van Buren, Harrison, Roosevelt, and Wilson building their skills with CRSA on a weekly basis.

This past weekend, Jason and Alen hosted a special Soccer Festival for Kids on Course students. This opened the doors to students who have shown and interest in soccer through enrichment classes, but have not yet joined training through CRSA.

Twenty-two kids from Van Buren, Harrison, and Grant elementary schools participated in the event. They first worked on ball skills and then split into teams to play four-on-four games. The kids loved this experience. Some were nervous at first to join in, but everyone ended up having a great time.

Jason and Alen created a positive, nurturing learning environment for the kids, emphasizing fun and growth over winning. We are excited for our partnership with CRSA to continue, as we are able to help connect more kids with professional coaching and an organization that can help refine their skills.

– Greg White, Van Buren Site Manager

March 17, 2015

Math Munchers for Breakfast


I recently started a Math Enrichment group to help some of our KOC students  improve their math skills.  We work on basic skills such as multiplication and division.  So far the students have enjoyed this enrichment.  The goal of Math Munchers is to improve math skills while having fun.  We play board games, around the world, and jeopardy to keep it interesting.  The students seem to enjoy the class because they are always asking when the next one will be.  It was supposed to end this past week but due to the weather we had to cancel.  They were so upset that they wanted to have another class.  Some of the small things in life like this brings happiness to my eyes because I’ve been able to bring joy to my students.  My time for Kids on Course has been great and being able to lead my own enrichment has been a unique opportunity!

February 25, 2015

KoC: A History In Brief

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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.

February 6, 2015

The Birds & The Pigs

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Surface Pro’s, enthusiastic young minds, & Angry Birds.  Top that off with a field trip to a brand new, hi-tech building in CR on a Wednesday, and as you can imagine we didn’t hear too much complaining from our students.

With the gracious help of Geonetric and Iowa Startup Accelerator, a select group of students from all three Kids on Course schools had the opportunity to participate in a global movement called the Hour of Code.

As a part of Computer Science Education Week, students of all ages around the world began their quest to catch those elusive Pigs.  Their critical thinking & problem solving skills firing on all cylinders, students traveled from level to level using the Angry Birds platform while exploring the basics of computer programming.

I personally had the pleasure of taking thirty 4th & 5th graders from Grant Elementary to this unique experience, and the expressions I saw on their faces as soon as they walked through Geonetric’s door spoke volumes.  As they whipped through the Hour of Code in what must have been record time, I was most impressed by the sight of engaged & motivated students in a tech rich environment, surrounded by adults who facilitated teamwork & conversation.

Keep an eye out for more collaboration between IowaBIG, Geonetric, the Cedar Rapids Community School District, Kids on Course, and numerous other community partners in the future, as we help pave the way for growth, innovation, and achievement.