The City of Lakewood works to create community collaborations, and what’s happening with the After-School Homework Club at Emory Elementary is definitely a program to celebrate. This alliance among the school, the Lakewood Faith Coalition and other community members serves students in need of homework help and study skills, but it’s really about far more than academics for the children.
“They don’t only come for homework. They want to see the tutors,” said Andrea Syko who is Emory’s bilingual family engagement liaison coordinating the club. They “really needed to make some connections with adults,” and the club gives them an opportunity to connect with caring adults beyond their family and school staff.
Now in its second year, around 40 students regularly attend the weekly Thursday session of the Homework Club. Syko said the club primarily provides support in reading, math, technology and study skills for the more than 600 students at the school, situated on Teller Street near the intersection of Mississippi Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard.
Syko is “the glue to bring the community, staff, students and parents” all together, but the club “would not have been able to start without the Lakewood Faith Coalition,” she explained. The coalition is a collaboration of more than 75 Lakewood faith-based organizations and their members that started in 2014 to build partnerships with neighborhoods, businesses, schools and nonprofits to strengthen and build community. The coalition is part of the Lakewood Linked initiative spearheaded by the current and past mayor to find ways for a variety of groups to have more impact by joining forces to work on community issues.
In particular, members of the nearby Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided the mentors and homework to help get the club launched and to establish a strong foundation. But the adults who come to help the kids have grown more diverse. Currently, the group of more than 15 dedicated tutors represent a wider network of Lakewood churches including Cloverdale Church of God and Calvary Belmar Church, as well as volunteers from the city’s nearby Lakewood Link Recreation Center and the health nonprofit Metro Community Provider Network.
Syko has seen a wonderful sense of camaraderie grow among the tutors. “They have all become friends working together. It doesn’t matter what you believe (when) you have a goal: helping the community and the children,” she said.
One of the tutors, Michael Hooven, who is a pastor at Cloverdale, has been involved with the program since spring 2016. For Hooven, giving his time each week is a matter of doing the right thing, “not as a pastor, but as a human being.” He encourages others to consider volunteering, explaining that for him the long-term goal is to get “more community members involved helping to change the lives of these students.” He also enjoys the club’s fun atmosphere and looks forward to it every Thursday.
“It’s important to invest in your community and your local schools,” Hooven said. He appreciates his ability “to be an influence in their lives” and the impact he has because students know “they can count on someone being there each week” to support them directly.
Emory provides volunteer training for all tutors, with a focus on bringing positive values as role models. And while all the data has yet to be compiled and analyzed, Syko is pleased that “academically, we have great growth” already. Hooven agrees, noting that “it’s been neat to watch (the students) grow in their knowledge.”
Syko has seen firsthand how the program can have an impact on entire families. When one fourth-grade student was struggling with math, Syko consulted with the parents and worked out the scheduling for the girl to attend Homework Club. Her two siblings quickly followed by joining the program.
“Mom said (her daughter) was able to get good grades in math,” and all the children have maintained high attendance in the club throughout the year, Syko said.
Support from members of the faith coalition has also grown beyond the Homework Club. The school has a Family Engagement Team, which is a family-led parent-teacher organization with community and staff members that meets every Friday to discuss important school issues. Students are even invited when there are relevant matters for them. But Syko said that Hooven’s involvement has served as the “main community partner for the Family Engagement Team.”
The community collaboration has now extended to other after-school activities and beyond, with some students from the Homework Club joining the Boys and Girls Club each week in the computer lab to focus on their Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies. The school also has developed a thriving Chess Club. Improvements in academics, behavior and focus are all observable in students, Syko said. And the school’s community-minded approach has led to the Homework Club opening its doors to adults in the neighborhood who want to work on math, reading and other skills.
“We’re a school listening to the needs of our students and of our families,” explained Syko, adding that it is crucial for “families to feel ownership of what they’re doing.”