It’s no secret that high levels of multi-generational poverty have been particularly alarming and challenging for school age youth who have been identified as at-risk and underserved. In turn, this epidemic has built a high resistance to creating solutions for children and families trying escape the clutches of poverty. Furthermore, in the K-12 school system, many students don’t perform on grade level as a result of poor preparation, lack of educational support or underperforming schools. Eliminating this crisis requires interventions to break cycles that, if disregarded, will evolve into a curse that strengthens generational poverty. High quality education is one of the greatest tools for defeating the cycle and providing school-age youth the potential to succeed from the cradle to career. This goal, however, is much easier said than done.
That’s where national service joins forces with a “village” of worldwide organizations, communities and individuals to transform the lives of millions of children every year. Since 1965, over 192,000 people have served as VISTA volunteers working with local organizations to strengthen communities and help people escape poverty. I am truly proud to serve as a CASE for Kids School Readiness VISTA and contribute to the mission of every child gaining access to high-quality expanded learning opportunities.
In some cases, being an Americorps VISTA means engaging with school communities and parents while providing resources for their children to become better learners. As an agency of change, Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids believes a quality out-of-school time program provides avenues for opportunities for youth to excel, explore and expand their horizons before school, after school, on weekends, and during the summer.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began my VISTA position with CASE for Kids this past November. I was aware of the great work that the division was conducting to improve the quality of education throughout Greater Houston but was also curious to see what my role would be in this greater mission.
Working with CASE for Kids continues to be an eye-opening experience for me. Moving forward, I realize that the hours between school dismissal and dinner are some the most precarious hours of the day for school-age children. It is a large task in and outside the educational arena to secure an environment in which children can be involved in wholesome, enriching activities while their parents are still working.
While the need for afterschool programs and extended learning opportunities exists everywhere, availability is not universal. There should be more targeted efforts to attract the underserved youth to participate in OST programs. I truly do believe strongly in the adage that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Working with CASE for Kids, I continue to discover and explore the ways an afterschool program can serve as a lifeline for youth. With that said, I have recently been focusing my attention on how afterschool programs that offer Homework Help can bridge the communication between the school day and OST settings.
--Jackie Cooper, Americorps VISTA