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UMass Worcester- Student run African Community Education Program is profiled

What is African Community Education Program?

Just the bullets:

  • After school program for kids of African origin living in Worcester
  • Opportunity for kids who are behind in school - in particular due to gaps in their education - to catch up and improve in their basic studies
  • A program that will bring together members of various African communities (Liberian, Ghanian, Nigerian, Somalian, etc) who have established themselves in the US and have received education. These people will serve as tutors and mentors to our children in need.
  • Program that would make community stronger, help kids succeed, foster friendships and mentoring relationship, and provide safe environment and support to the children in need
  • In addition, we will engage students from various colleges in Worcester to help mentor the children and serve as role-models
  • In the beginning the program will be in the form of Saturday school with 7 hours worth of activities, but later on will expand to other days of the week and a wider rage of activities. In the future we hope to also provide adult education.


Background information:

About 2 years ago a few medical students from Umass got involved in tutoring children who were being resettled in Worcester from Liberia by Catholic Charities. This activity became more organized and began to grow. Right now we have approx 30-40 kids in our program and about 25-30 tutors. We have 3 different centers throughout Worcester (Great Brook Valley, Upland Gardens and Catholic Charities) where kids come once a week for 1 hour and work (preferably one-on-one) with a medical student who serves as their tutor/mentor. Kids work on their homework or some general skills that are holding them behind in school. Unfortunately, this program is not enough for them. They are all wonderful kids, who put a lot of effort in trying to succeed, but many of them have had little or no education at all prior to coming to the US (due to political situation in Liberia). Thus, we have some kids who are 12 years old, who had never been in school, but are placed in 6th or 7th grade - they are lost. Even with just a tiny bit of help that our program provides the kids have been more successful in school and approach studies with more enthusiasm. But they need more. Additionally, there are a lot more kids who need help than what the medical students are capable of serving.

As the need for a larger program became more obvious, several members of Worcester community got together to address the issue. It was decided that we will organize a program for kids from ALL African countries who are refugees/recent immigrants/kids of immigrants who are behind in school and want help with their studies. In addition, the idea is to engage the more established and educated portion of African community in Worcester to come and volunteer their time to tutor the kids in need. We anticipate that such a program will achieve two goals: 1) provide support to kids who are behind in school for whatever reasons and 2) bring the community together and make it stronger. Later, when the program is more established, we hope to offer similar support to the parents of the kids, especially recent refugees/immigrants to this country who are struggling in their new environment.

Although we have many plans and goals for the future, at the moment we decided to focus on creating a Saturday school - one day a week program for approximately 7 hours. It will involve a few hours of classes in Math and English, some time for individualized work on various skills and at the end of the day a few hours of extracurricular activities (like soccer, dance, theater, arts&crafts) to reward the kids for their hard work and to give them a break. All of this is a complete approximation for now, but we are working on developing a curriculum for kids of different backgrounds and levels and we are trying to do so in collaboration with the school system. Partnering with schools is particularly important to us, because we would like to have complete correlation between kids' work during the week and what they do in the program. In addition, we hope to spread awareness of our programs among schools so that the teachers could refer to us the kids in need. We hope to have a constant dialogue about each and every child in our program to assure the best strategy and a team approach to help them succeed. Later, as the program grows, we will hopefully expand to more days of the week and more variety of activities.

At this moment, we have a team of approximately 25 people working on developing this program. Some of the tasks on the table today are putting together all the necessary paperwork to establish a non-profit organization, organizing future fundraisers and searching for grants to support our program, finding space and arranging for transportation, and much more. In addition, we are constantly talking to people in the community and spreading awareness; we are taking applications from kids interested in the program, as well as volunteers willing to give some time to tutor the kids or run other activities.

If you have any additional questions please email Olga Valdman at olga.valdman@umassmed.edu or call Kaska Yawo at 508-395-8001

1/10/08