Education has been hit hard over the past year. Particularly here in Philadelphia with the recent budget cuts for education it’s been hard for public schools to maintain after-school programming. But with the help of educational community organizations many of these struggling school children have places to go.
In Hunting Park, one of the several organizations that help the youth and provide after-school programming is EducationWorks. The non-profit group has established itself in southeastern Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey. Located in Chester and Philadelphia for Pennsylvania, and Camden and Trenton in New Jersey, the group has been working with young kids in the community who often have trouble attaining their educational goals due to poverty or other personal barriers.
Buses full of kids from different schools in the district come to the offices at 3 p.m. and walk their way to Marybeth Hugh Middle School for the after-school program. The kids are watched over by EducationWorks loyal group of volunteers. Six year volunteer, Karen Payne, has been working with kids her whole life and is more than happy to continue helping them.
“The most rewarding thing to me is seeing the smiles on their faces everyday,” Payne said.
The after-school program functions as a place in which the kids can work on their studies and talk with the volunteers. In addition to academic help EducationWorks also offers something essential for young children: food. Payne hands out boxes of food to each of the kids as they line up to pick up one.
“The program takes them off the streets and puts them in a safe environment,” Payne said.
EducationWorks stemmed from the National and Community Service Act of 1990, which was signed by then-President George H. W. Bush. This allowed for the ground work to be laid for organizations like AmeriCorps. The group officially began in 1992 in New Jersey under the title Urban Schools Service Corps. In 1994 they soon moved out of the state government system and into the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. It renamed itself the National School and Community Corps and finally made its way here to Philadelphia.
By 2001, the organization left the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and finally named itself EducationWorks. They became a fully operational non-profit organization in 2002.
Its numerous after-school and adult education programs work directly with several schools in the Philadelphia School District. These range from K-8 schools and high schools. There it establishes teams to help with the students and their study time. In addition to during school programs, there are also after-school programs, which provide kids a place to go after school. Mentoring is offered to many of the high school students.
Though, some schools run into problems with fitting them into their budget, most make the effort to have the money to maintain the program, understanding its importance in helping the students.
Other programs help older students to prepare for college and working in the real world. They also provide programs that teach students how to become good citizens in the community. This real world application has helped the kids learn what it means to be a contributing member of their community.
Even while still learning, the volunteers find ways to make it fun. The kids participate in arts and crafts, recently decorating flower pots and placing plants into them to grow. Also the students even had the opportunity to play some flag football.
Payne isn’t the only one dedicating her time to these kids. Ninety percent of volunteers said that it increased their citizenship and remain committed to the service. Ninety-two percent said they would continue to volunteer on a regular basis.
Their hard work has been met with success. Many teachers saw an increase in standardized test performance by more than one year’s academic growth. In the 2009 to 2010 school year teachers had said that most of the students success could be attributed to EducationWorks. Beyond the increased learning, issues in behavior and tardiness have also improved. Students who were absent 38-54 days saw an improvement of 12 days in attendance. Those who were absent more than 54 days increased their attendance by 28 days. Schools even reported that 80 percent of those children who attended education works showed an increase in classroom behavior.
The numbers give credit to the groups success in the community and the students they help. With its contribution to education, EducationWorks has been providing the community with one of the most essential elements to improving a community. Though, seeing those statistics is uplifting, the personal reward is always more appreciated.
“To see the outcome of the children,” Payne said. “I still have students from six years ago who still come back to visit. I didn’t recognize one student because he was a grown man.”