Education

Earliest 'Kids on Course' learners heading to high school

Studies: Zach Johnson's academic intervention program seeing positive results

Ary Lopez works on an assignment in Katie Cook’s reading class for rising fourth-graders at Kids On Course at Harrison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids in the summer of 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Ary Lopez works on an assignment in Katie Cook’s reading class for rising fourth-graders at Kids On Course at Harrison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids in the summer of 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Regardless of their race or income level, students in a Cedar Rapids summer reading program have been able to improve their reading skills.

Nearly half of the 750 students enrolled in Kids on Course University’s summer school — the Zach Johnson Foundation’s academic intervention program — were better readers by the end of seven-week program, according to a University of Iowa study.

And this fall, Kids on Course, in its eighth year in Cedar Rapids, will see its inaugural class of students enter high school.

In Iowa schools, achievement gaps in reading and math exist among higher-income, white students and their peers of color and of lower-income. Kids on Course is closing that gap for its students in the Cedar Rapids area.

Kids on Course’s summer program also helps fill a need for elementary and middle school student when school is out of session, when maintaining reading skills can be a challenge since they can often spend months without instruction.

Students reading below grade level are selected for the program, and this summer they attended the summer course at four Cedar Rapids elementary schools: Kenwood Leadership Academy, Johnson STEAM Academy, Taylor Elementary and Grant Elementary.

During last summer’s session, students’ demographics were:

• 52 percent white

• 35 percent black

• 43 percent female

• 56 percent male

• 15 percent English language learners

• 28 percent students receiving special education services

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While specific numbers and academic measures were not yet available for this summer’s program, which ended this week, Kids on Course University Director Amy Evans said students again made “great gains,” with many increasing their reading skills between 10 to 20 words per minute.

“We’re really hoping they’ll hold, in the three weeks we have until they go back to school,” said Evans, who also works a strategist for the Cedar Rapids school district.

A school district analysis of the after-school version of the Kids on Course program and a district-funded tutoring program called We Power Up found achievement gaps among second- through fifth-grade white students and students of color, as well as students from low-income and other families, were narrow or nonexistent.

According to the analysis of the after-school program, white and minority students improved at the same rate, and students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty, and their peers also grew at about the same rate.

Academic growth for all students, regardless of race or economic status, was “a very positive finding,” according to a report from the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

“Usually, there is a significant disparity,” according to the analysis.

Part of the program’s success could lie in its scale, said Beth Malicki, a board member of the Zach Johnson Foundation and a fundraiser for the Kids on Course program.

“Having 150 kids all being part of a tutoring program in one building has a different energy, and almost a culture,” Malicki said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, you’ve got to go to tutoring, you’re one of those dozen or so kids.’ It’s, ‘Of course I’m staying after school. Everybody on my bus is staying after school.’”

The bulk of the academic program’s funding comes from the Zach Johnson Foundation, the Cedar Rapids-native golfer’s nonprofit organization. Additional funding comes from the Cedar Rapids Community School District and a federal grant.

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Kids on Course — which until now has been only in elementary and middle schools — this year will follow its inaugural class to high school to offer continued tutoring, mentoring and guidance applying to college.

That class — 46 students who entered the program as second-graders — have all been promised college scholarships if they continue to attend tutoring, participate in at least one extracurricular activity and complete community service.

The scholarships are expected to be between $1,000 and $1,500, Malicki said. With that help and guidance around how to secure more scholarships, Malicki said the Zach Johnson Foundation’s goal to have students see “there’s a path” for them to college.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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