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
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 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
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