May 4, 2018

MAY the Force Be With You

May at the five Kids on Course schools means Learning Lab has ended, and students and staff begin daydreaming about summer and all the wonderful Kids on Course University/Scholar Camp activities that are to come. At Van Buren, May also means Star Wars Day, which falls on the fourth every year.

Star Wars and KOC may not seem to be connected, but to the careful observer (or increasingly desperate blog writer) their core DNA is actually very similar. At the heart of the Star Wars franchise is the idea that just the smallest spark of hope can light the fire of change in the world. KOC’s credo of providing equal access to opportunity speaks the same message.

When kids (and rebellions) are given hope, they have the idea that all things are possible. KOC takes kids on college visits multiple times a year so that they can see themselves on a college campus. KOC has a scholarship fund to help students pay to play sports outside of school. This seemingly small gesture could help to produce the next MLS star. Our tutors spend countless hours coming up with new and interesting ways to help our students engage with learning and bridge the achievement gap.

Whether it’s Han Solo returning to help destroy the Death Star, or a KOC tutor finally creating the right activity to help a third grader get the hang of multiplication, the creation and cultivation of hope is an important thing. That third grader who just figured out multiplication now has the hope that math isn’t as scary as they thought it was, and that can lead to a snowball effect of positive things in their academic life. The newly emboldened Rebel Alliance knows that the Empire can be beaten, and peace can once again exist in the Galaxy; maybe with the help of a current third grader who has a newfound love of math…

May the force be with you.

-Jerry Logan, Van Buren Site Coordinator

April 6, 2018

The Voice of Tomorrow

In this day and age where smartphones are attached to kids’ hips and a majority of conversations I overhear in my classroom are centered around Fortnite, it’s been refreshing to witness our youth take action on the issues that most impact their lives. Whether it’s organizing a silent walk to support the Parkland victims, tuning in to the net neutrality vote while at lunch, or interviewing staff about our transition to a magnet school, these students are realizing how powerful their voices can be.

We’ve always been told that adults know best, but while those same adults have become increasingly partisan and hateful towards each other, our students have taken matters into their own hands. Often dismissed by the media and policy makers, I can’t help but think that this year is different. Rallying around a collective perspective for change, student’s can start feeling like they are part of a solution, instead of being blamed for the problems.

Successful advocacy demands authenticity, and we can count on students to tell you exactly how they feel. By building long lasting, meaningful connections with the youth in our communities, we can bring our long-term visions closer to lasting change. We should move away from the perspective that every relationship is simply a transaction and realize the impact we can have if we invest our time & energy through advocating for and with our kids.

I would encourage every adult reading this to engage our youth in the tough conversations we are all having: What does school safety mean to you? Where exactly is our food coming from? What rights do all humans have? While their answers may not be the polished, articulate and neutral replies our elected officials are commonly known for, they represent how all kids want to feel–Real.


– David Savino, Kids on Course Roosevelt Site Manager

March 2, 2018

The More That You Read, The More Things You Will Know!

“Those are the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.”

-JRR Tolkien

In a frantic scramble to get things ready for a recent family night I found myself coming to a stop while setting up a book table. Emptying box after box of new books for our kids to take home at the end of the night I was swept up in a wave of nostalgia seeing old favorites that had seemingly transcended the generations. Surely, I thought to myself, kids today can’t still be reading Matt Christopher books!

This line of thinking set me on the path of remembering my favorite books from elementary school.

I wondered, then, what is on the favorites list of current fifth graders? Could there be any crossover from my own list from that age? I polled a random assortment of current Kids on Course fifth graders and compiled a list of overall favorite books (I combined all Diary of a Wimpy Kid votes into the same slot even if the votes were for different books in the series. Jeff Kinney gets enough publicity.)

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Jeff Kinney

2. Gregor the Overlander – Suzanne Collins

3. Totally Lame Vampire – Tim Collins

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling

5. Dork Diaries – Rachel Renee Russell

6. I Survived series – Lauren Tarshis

7. Wings of Fire – Tui T Sutherland

8. Wonder – RJ Palacio

9. Maze Runner – James Dashner

10. Smile – Raine Telgemeier

For anyone interested, my list is (in no particular order) Harry Potter (whole series), Hatchet, The Hobbit, A Light in the Attic, Magic Tree House (whole series), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, any number of Goosebumps books, Matt Christopher’s books (but only the ones about soccer), Johnny Tremain, and Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.

-Jerry Logan, Van Buren Site Coordinator

February 14, 2018

We LOVE our 8th Graders!

By the time Kids on Course students reach high school they will have had more than 250 hours of tutoring, experienced more than 15 different sports, art classes, or other enrichment classes, visited at least four college campuses, and a personal mentor to ensure they know each day that someone cares, someone is holding them accountable, and someone is guiding them to the best possible future.

As the Program Leader of Kids on Course I don’t get to spend much time with students, but I devote hours to looking at their data and supporting the staff that walks alongside children within their schools. And when I look at our inaugural group of Kids on Course students, our current eighth graders, my heart swells with joy. When we met them in second grade, they were so little and many of them were shy and struggling with their learning. We’ve seen them transform into much taller (!) and more confident in their educational and personal paths. Some are excelling on the basketball court, in Algebra, on the soccer field or on the stage. What a gift to be a witness as they soon embark on the next chapter: high school.

In order to prepare for this transition, we’ve been meeting with high school principals, colleges, career planning experts, trade and apprentice groups, and military recruiters. We want to know the entire post-secondary landscape so we can be experts in getting these young people on a path that best fits with their interests and strengths. Right now these eighth graders are planning their schedules for high school and Jaimen Pangborn and David Savino have been guiding their course selection and ensuring students are filling their school days with opportunities that will challenge and motivate them. So if a student sneaks in a study hall, rather than an elective like Teen Issues or Creative Writing, you better believe we’ll catch it.

The Zach Johnson Foundation started Kids on Course to meet a community need and fulfill Zach and Kim’s dream of supporting children in his hometown who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Our results show that students who’ve been in Kids on Course for two or more years are less likely to get in trouble at school, are more likely to be on grade level in reading, and are more hopeful about their futures. But the real test of the success of our program will come when these eighth graders are enrolled in college, a trade, or military service after high school. Then we will know we’ve reached our goal of getting all Kids on Course students on a path to further learning after high school, which also means they graduated high school on time. We know that 86% of our students are first generation college students, as defined by the Department of Education (not having any parents with a four-year degree.) This data point is important because it shows our program is reaching students who have the most to gain from post-secondary education and are the most at risk, according to nationwide and local statistics, of not having success after high school.

We love these students, and these families. We cannot wait to see what they grow into over the next four a half years. We’ve already started working with iCAN and community partners to assess their interests and strengths to help guide them in future careers. While 14 year olds can change their minds on a day-to-day basis, we know it’s valuable to get them thinking about what kind of schooling they want to pursue after high school, and how that impacts their dream job prospects. We’ll also be diving into the costs of college, and how a high GPA, well-rounded extra-curricular resume, and pursuing scholarships can reduce the burden of debt. And each student in Kids on Course will receive a scholarship if they stick with the program through 12th grade to pursue the degree, certificate or training necessary to live independently and proudly in a life of their choosing. We are so thankful for this opportunity to share in the success of these young people, and love every minute of being in their lives!

– Beth Malicki, Kids on Course Program Leader