I love this job because each day is a new day. I’ve been with Kids on Course for about six years, first as an AmeriCorps Member and now as the Site Manager at Grant Elementary School. If you hang around me long enough you’ll learn I never really stopped being a kid, which makes me the envy of recess.
For those new to what Kids on Course is all about, allow me to provide a brief history. We have six core components that we focus on at the elementary level as we put Zach and Kim Johnson’s dream into reality:
Learning Lab – About 150 children at each of our three elementary schools now attend twice a week sessions for roughly 20 weeks in the school year. Each session consists of math, reading or enrichment activities. The original goal was to give students an opportunity to learn from playing games. This quickly grew into something much more. Parents, students, and teachers are realizing that a little extra support, and a lot of fun and games, can make a huge difference in academic outcomes.
Kids on Course University – In 2013 we invited about 60 students to be part of our inaugural KCU with a single goal to stop the Summer Slide. That’s when kids lose some of what they learned the previous school year because they don’t have access to experiences that challenge them and keep their minds engaged. What we found was that most students not only stopped that Slide, but came back to school in August more prepared for the school year than when they left!
In 2016 the Cedar Rapids School District partnered with us to expand this summer program to serve more than 750 kids. This huge expansion was only possible thanks to generous private donors at the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant from the state of Iowa.
Enrichment – Zach Johnson played lots of sports, and even a few musical instruments, when he was growing up in Cedar Rapids. But many students cannot participate in sports or activities unless the school provides them. This is where ZJ and his team step in. We incorporate enrichment into our Learning Lab program and also provide scholarships for kids who are ready for a community-based extra-curricular opportunity. These students have to earn what we call Bid for Kids scholarships by being devoted to Kids on Course, school attendance and complete an application. We have helped more than 100 students be part of CRSA, Jr. J-Hawk basketball, Expressions Dance Studio, vocal lessons, and many more!
The Bid for Kids scholarship has made a big impact on one child I get to work with. She is a 3rd grader who is taking Gymnastics lessons at a local gym. She just started this year, but has put so much time and effort into becoming her best that she was elevated from beginner to a traveling team after her first couple of months training. She just recently went to an out of state tournament and won her first medal! Her radiant smile when she returned to school was something I will never forget.
Home Visits – Home Visits are our chance to meet the amazing family behind our incredible students. The purpose of a home visit is simple: meet each other! We get to meet the guardians and siblings while learning a little more about the student. It is also a chance for the family to get to know the KOC crew and ask whatever questions are on their mind.
A home visit doesn’t have to take place at home. Any place that can be seen as safe and happy is a good place to visit and share a little about ourselves. It is in these little meetings that we find out how we can best support these kiddos to make the most of their childhood. All these little moments have a habit of adding up into a bigger and more meaningful relationship that will last a lifetime.
College Visits – At the elementary level fourth and fifth graders get to visit colleges thanks to funding and support from Kids on Course. This year fourth graders will visit Kirkwood Community College and see all that this incredible educational resource can offer them in the future. Current undergraduates come and speak to our students about their daily life, classes, jobs, and dreams for the future. The fifth graders board buses and head to Cedar Falls for a day at UNI. Students learn new words and concepts like dorm, major, study abroad and professors. They get to tour a dorm room, see what goes on in a “live” classroom, run the length of the football field, and end the day off with pizza and ice cream in the food court.
Kids on Course aims to put all children on a path to college, with college meaning any accredited learning after high school. We can talk about future goals but until students have a true understanding of what’s out there, they really can’t imagine it. These experiences give our kiddos a first-hand look at something they may have never seen before so they can see that they have the power to make their own choices in life.
Operation Backpack – This is a partnership between the schools, KOC, and HACAP (Hawkeye Area Community Action Program) to provide food bags for students to take home over the weekend. Like all Kids on Course activities and programming, this a free opportunity for families. This is vital resource for families who may need a little extra help providing consistent meals during a time of hardship.
We believe that no kid should ever have to go to bed hungry due to lack of available food at home.
Those who work at HACAP are absolutely wonderful people who believe the same thing. They so graciously host volunteers to pack thousands of food bags a week for schools all over the city. KOC schools account for roughly 250 of those bags a week. This tells us the need for support is out there. We are happy to help fill that need. A huge thank you goes to all the help and support from people and organizations in the community like Hailey Carr, HACAP, Meth-Wick, Toyota-Financial, and Mrs. Janet for always having these bags packed and ready to go.
As the Site Manager, it’s my job to make sure all these different elements happen and that all children who want to participate can. That means I spend time coordinating buses, or scheduling activities, and communicating with parents. I also am a mentor to the students I serve and get to share my love of learning with them, as well as my love of recess. Even after six years I’m still excited about the work I get to do with Kids on Course and realize that this actually isn’t a job, it’s my purpose.