July 20, 2017 by jiejie768
Yesterday I touched on the history of Kids at the Crossroads and how GeGe grew a program from a dozen or so students into a Carmen Alto institution which welcomes about 120 students per day. (Never a bad time to donate, as just $5 feeds the entire program for a day).
The program’s mission statement is:
“Our mission is to help break the cycle of poverty in low-income communities by preparing and empowering children & adolescents to become productive, responsible and self-sufficient adults.”
In a day-to-day sense, I tend to think of it as roughly analogous to the Boys and Girls Club after school programs hosted by several Seattle schools, though with a bit more academic emphasis. Today I will try and walk you through what I see as the five fundamental parts of daily life at KATC.
1.) The Classes
The primary goal of KATC is to help boost academic achievement among local children, with a long term goal of increasing both high school completion rates and college enrollment rates among children from the Carmen Alto neighborhood. With this in mind, each student who attends the program spends either 45 minutes (grades 1 and 2) or 1 hour (grades 3-6) of each day, Monday through Thursday, receiving direct academic instruction in math (M,W) or literacy (T, Th). Fridays feature enrichment or recreational activities ranging from arts and crafts to movie days to soccer matches, and more. Additionally, a few times a month a local child psychologist visits each class to teach emotional intelligence and empathy (she also regularly meets with a few individual students).
The main classes are taught by either Profesor Percy or Profesora Aydee (Aye-day), longtime teachers at the program who both are certified educators. Aydee teaches grades 1, 4, and 5, while Percy handles grades 2, 3, and 6 next door. The youngest grades enter at 2:15 p.m. while the middle grades start at 3 p.m. and the oldest kids begin their classes at 4 p.m.
In addition to Percy and Aydee, KATC has a third teacher, Profesora Edith (Ay-deet), who is certified in secondary education. She teaches one small class for four third-graders whose academic needs are considerably greater than their grade-level peers as well as twice-a-week classes for students in the first year of high school (what we in the U.S. would call 7th grade). The students in the high school class (about 6-10 in all) are all children who previously attended the main program, which is for kids in grades 1-6. Quick aside: many of the students in Edith’s secondary class were in first grade when Meg and I were here on our first visit, and it is astonishing how much they have grown!
The main focus of the daily classes is to build upon and improve the skills students are learning in their regular classes, as well as address some of the holes in foundational skills that can be created by the Ayacucho school system’s advance-at-all-costs approach to sending students to the next grade, ready or not. In particular, GeGe hopes to see students improve their basic math-fact fluency, increase their number sense, and develop a reading life outside of what they are forced to do at school.
With regards to the teachers, I’m regularly impressed by their ability to plan and deliver daily lessons to three different grade levels without the aid of a permanent curriculum. Like any good academic leader, GeGe often gets frustrated with them for falling into ruts and/or failing to push their students to expand their thinking. But on the whole, their work and dedication to the program is admirable.
2.) 1-on-1 Tutoring
This facet of the program is one I’m particularly fond of, as Meg and I essentially started it during our time here in 2012-2013 before passing it off to Wilber when we left. It has grown and expanded in its scope and complexity in the ensuing years however. When we started it 4-plus years ago, GeGe would identify kids who were significantly behind in their reading (usually in either the first or second grade) and Meg and I would pull them into the kitchen for 15 minutes of additional tutoring after their daily classes. Back then, we basically scoured the Internet for free resources (thanks A-to-Z Readers!) and would drill kids on letter sounds, syllables and reading fluency. It was a lot of guesswork as Meg’s experience is in high school Spanish and, at the time, I had zero teaching experience.
Nowadays, the kids in need of tutoring are identified by the classroom teachers who also provide a list of specific goals which they pass on to Wilber. Additionally, the tutoring program has expanded to include math as well. Going forward, GeGe is hopeful that the list of kids receiving 1-to-1 support can grow as she currently is attempting to train a second longtime IA, Gloria, in tutoring.
As for Wilber’s part, I’ve been blown away by how much he has grown into the role. The degree to which he takes his job seriously, and genuinely cares about how much his charges are learning, shines through in every interaction. What’s more, he is hungry for feedback and listens eagerly to any ideas or suggestions Meg or I have for him and applies them immediately. Though Wilber may not be a formally trained educator, it is clear to us that he is a teacher in the truest sense of the word.
3.) Homework Center
In addition to the daily classes, students can receive support with their regular homework. Those who need help with this (or simply a space to do it) arrive before their scheduled classes and sit out back at the covered picnic tables behind KATC. During our first visit, the youngest grades (1 and 2) would come down and get homework help after their classes with Profersores Percy and Aydee. Of late, however, GeGe has scrapped this practice, rightfully (IMHO) believing there is far more value in giving those kids time to play rather than forcing them to do more schoolwork (remember they have a full day of school prior to arriving at KATC, too).
On hand in the homework center, ready to help those students who need it, are Sra. Hilda (who along with Alejandro owns the KATC building and lives upstairs with her family, Gloria, and Yamile (Hilda and Alejandro’s college-age daughter, and a former KATC student herself).
This is one aspect of the program that Meg and I truly believe is among its most powerful. Each day after their classes (younger students ) or after they’ve finished their homework (older students) the kids essentially get free reign over the program’s bottom floor: two large playrooms packed to the gills with all manner of interactive toys, board games, puzzles, and high-interest books (the kids spend ~15 minutes a day doing independent reading in this space as well). Watching over all the fun are Noe (a former KATC student, turned employee) and Amancia (whose sons Isak, Abrahan and Lucas are some of my very favorite people on Earth).
Entering this space around 3:30 (when it has arguably its highest concentration of students) can be a bit of sensory overload. But if one takes a step back and really observes, you see an incredible amount of joy, energy, team-building, creativity, imagination, and all the other things that makes working with young people one of life’s true pleasures.
Though this part of the program isn’t directly laid out in the KATC mission statement, I’d argue it’s essential to the program being able to achieve its goals. Those of us who work with children know how much learning and growing comes from playing, and, sadly, the kind of playing that KATC makes possible just isn’t something the vast majority of these kids have access to at home.
I’m proud of the academic things I helped kids accomplish on my first visit, but my strongest and most precious memories of the program come from time spent in these two rooms amid the glorious “caos” of 100 or so kids having the time of their lives.
5.) A Sandwich, Some Fruit, and a Hug
At the end of each day (5 p.m.) all 120-plus students gather in one of the ground-floor playrooms. During this time, GeGe often addresses any program business (closures, changes in schedules, guests, etc.). But the main feature of this procedure is dismissal, during which each student receives a hug and affirmation from GeGe and the rest of the staff (and Meg and I when we are here 🙂 ) before picking up a small sandwich and piece of fruit on their way out the door (often this serves as the students’ only dinner).
She’s never told me as much, but watching this process, I’d guess it’s that daily hug and small moment with each kid that keeps her doing what she’s doing. Like any educator, GeGe often grows frustrated by the day-to-day grind of running a huge academic operation. But during these 15 (or so) minutes, it’s pretty clear that even with all the venting (which EVERY teacher, everywhere, does), there is nowhere she would rather be spending her time and energy. It is likewise obvious that these kids revere and respect GeGe in a way that only kids who know they are truly loved by an adult can. Watching and participating in this daily routine is the very definition of soul-feeding.
That’s a wrap on a daily life at KATC. In the next couple days look for posts on Meg’s and my role during this visit to KATC and a brief, link-filled look at some of the other things KATC does in and around Ayacucho. In the meantime, please donate.