An area nonprofit is helping to catch students up from the spring when schools closed and helping those in virtual school stay on track with a new learning center program.
At the start of the school year, Kokomo Urban Outreach launched the new program after seeing the need as students with little supervision or without internet access transitioned to virtual students, all while many students still were behind from schools closing in the spring due to COVID-19.
“Most of the kids are behind because when school stopped last (school) year, they did not have ways to connect to the internet to do their work, and most didn't do it,” said Jeff Newton, executive director of Kokomo Urban Outreach.
Now, instead of virtual students attempting to do their schoolwork at home, 20 students attend the learning center Monday through Friday during the traditional school day where they have internet access, and volunteers help them with their classwork while holding them accountable.
Newton said the learning center has been an asset to the students who are attending.
“When school closed last (school) year, many of them didn’t have the resources at home to get it done or have internet to get everything done. And many of them didn’t get everything done, and they were passed for it. Then they were behind,” Newton said. “We’re trying to help them keep up and get caught up.”
The learning center also serves as a “safe place” for virtual students whose parents may work during the day. They’re served lunch, and Newton has added some extras, such as gym and Spanish class.
The center has also been helpful to virtual kindergarten students – students who’ve never been in school before and now must learn how to navigate the programs and schoolwork entirely online
Newton credited volunteer Gene Kostrewa for the work he’s been doing with one particular kindergarten student, Zay Green. Kostrewa said he was happy to give back and help young students.
“The wonderful thing about this,” Kostrewa said, “is I’m working with some of the kindergarten kids, and I don’t see how they can navigate all this … They’re just left on their own to somehow navigate this, and nine times out of 10 their parents aren’t involved. Their parents could be in jail, could be on drugs. We don’t know, and that’s not the issue. The issue is to help these kids get a great opportunity in their future in their lives.”
The students represent 10 Howard County schools and about 30 teachers. Newton said he stays in contact with the schools and the students’ teachers to best help them. One of the Kokomo Schools administrators, Newton said, comes in every Friday as well.
In addition to receiving support, Kostrewa said the socialization at the learning center also is an asset to students. Instead of being on their own at home as virtual students, they’re able to still be around other students on a smaller scale.
“We’re not a school,” Kostrewa said. “But we’re trying to help tutor these kids, help them catch up because when the virus hit, they just passed all these kids. And these kids were probably behind to begin with, and then they have the misfortune of just being passed to the next grade. Well, they weren’t ready to leave.”
To maximize the amount of help being offered to students, more volunteers are needed. Newton would like to have 20 volunteers so that every student could have one-on-one help. Right now, he said there are about four or five volunteers who are able to come every day.
As cases of the virus continue to rise, Kostrewa hoped for the best in that schools will be able to safely stay open. Should schools close again, he worries about how it will affect students long-term.
“I believe this is going to stunt a lot of kids’ education if they don’t have the intestinal fortitude because, let’s face it, if mom and dad are both working – and I understand that. I’m sensitive to the fact that mom and dad have to earn a living – they have to depend on their kid to further their education,” Kostrewa said.
To attend the learning center, students must be in Kokomo Urban Outreach’s Up! programs. For information on how to volunteer, call Kokomo Urban Outreach at 457-1983.