Making the Grade: Vt. Non-profit Ensures Learning Continues After School

(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - The King Street Center, a Burlington, Vt. non-profit which says it serves 120 children and youth on any given day through pre-education programs and after-school activities, is helping kids continue to learn even after the school day ends. Trained tutors, volunteer mentors, and teachers work with young people to increase their proficiency in skills like math and reading.

"It makes you learn more," said 8-year-old Rukiya Awayle, a second-grader who works with a tutor at the King Street Center. "I really get my homework done a lot."

Rukiya is the child of Somali refugees, who said when she has questions about her homework, getting help at the center is great, because it's in the same language her teachers are speaking at school.

"The transition from home to school is tricky, because you're going from culture to culture, said Rosie Czech, Awayle's tutor. "Because you're going from culture to culture. That transition, it becomes smoother over time, but it never becomes truly seamless."

According to the national group Afterschool Alliance, 15-million children in this country are alone and unsupervised after school. The group says kids who attend programmed time are less likely to get in trouble, more likely to get better grades, and excel at skills like reading. Click here for a link to the Afterschool Alliance's website:

"It's such a valuable time frame," said Vicky Smith, the executive director of the King Street Center, describing the after-school hours. "We hear from the teachers how beneficial it is."

Smith said all around the country, non-profits like hers are stepping in and providing extensions to the school day, helping parents and working closely with schools to make sure the messages in both spaces are the same.

King Street told New England Cable News it has seen in the past an average of 2.94 months of reading gains for every month of tutoring at the center. Smith said other evaluations will take place in the coming weeks to gauge the progress made by program participants.

"There was a time I wondered if I was going to go to college," said Frank Willis, 18.

Middle and high-schoolers like Willis come to King Street free. Scholarships assistance is often found for younger kids to attend, Smith said. King Street is where Willis met Mark Johnson, his mentor. "We just kind of changed the way he thought about himself as a student," Johnson recalled.

Willis described Johnson as a father figure, but he might also have taken on somewhat of a drill sergeant role: making sure homework gets done and that Frank crams for those tests. Willis even worked at King Street's summertime lemonade stand on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, which stresses business skills.

The hard work and academic focus seems to have paid off, because Frank's headed to culinary school in the fall, and is picking up scholarships. "Who knows, maybe I'll work in a restaurant," Willis told NECN. "Or start my own restaurant."

Burlington's King Street Center is just one example of how the non-profit sector is helping young people "Making the Grade." Click here for more information on the non-profit.

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