Ten-year-old Amare Williams used to have difficulty completing his homework. But thanks to a homework help program provided by a Lenexa church, he’s finding the task much easier.
“Now I usually turn in my homework faster than anyone else,” said Amare, a fourth-grader at Rising Star Elementary School in Lenexa. “Math is the subject where I usually need the most help.”
Joshua Alvarez, 8, a third-grader at Holy Cross Catholic School, said the program is especially helpful when he receives a homework assignment that he doesn’t understand. “Every time I get stuck on something, they’re able to help,” he said.
Amare and Joshua are among at least 30 students receiving much-needed help with their homework through a program sponsored by the Lenexa Baptist Church.
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Offered at the Lenexa Pointe and the Meadows apartments in Lenexa where many of the children needing help live, the program serves elementary and middle school students in the Lenexa area.
Jim Stockwood, a church member who helps facilitate the program at Lenexa Pointe Apartments, said the church learned about the need for tutoring about six years ago.
“When meeting with families in the area, we learned that one of their biggest needs was that children needed help with their schoolwork,” Stockwood said. “Many of these students come from single-parent families, have parents who work long hours or have parents who speak little English and are unable to provide assistance. Most of the students attend Rising Star Elementary School.”
Jonathan Mondragon, 9, a fourth-grader at Rising Star, said his mother isn’t always able to help him with his homework because of the English language barrier.
“I have a neighbor who understands, but she’s not always home,” he said. “My mom doesn’t always understand the assignments. They can be tricky sometimes. My favorite subject is math, but sometimes I need help with something, like fractions.”
Ryan Wilson, Rising Star Elementary School library information specialist, said the school and others in Johnson County are becoming increasingly multicultural. “We have an extremely diverse group of students,” he said. “Programs such as these are very beneficial.”
On a recent evening, volunteers provided one-on-one student assistance to about 15 children, helping one student learn about the U.S. Constitution while another received help with math. Others worked on reading and language skills.
Wendy Koski, volunteer, said she has been involved with the program for about four years.
“It is the perfect fit for a retired school teacher who greatly misses working with children,” she said. “The children eagerly run into the room each week, wanting a homemade brownie and often a hug. We offer a quiet spot for them to work, and answer any homework questions that they may have. We try to help them complete as much work as possible in a short amount of time. All the volunteers just love their smiling faces.”
Wilson said that students who participate in the homework help program share their appreciation for the program with others at Rising Star. “I had a fifth-grader who came to the library this week tell me how much she enjoys having someone to talk to and time to do her homework,” he said.
Two sessions are held weekly: one after school on Monday nights at Lenexa Pointe Apartments and a second after school on Tuesday nights at the Meadows Apartments. Church members serve as homework help volunteers.
Funding for the program comes from Lenexa Baptist Church’s mission program, Stockwood said.
“We go on international mission trips several times a year, but we discovered that due to changes in our community, all of the cultures are coming to us,” he said. “We still go on mission trips, but a portion of our mission’s budget is now dedicated to programs such as this.”
In order to have a homework meeting space, the church improved the community room at Lenexa Pointe Apartments. The church has also added other amenities to the apartment complex, including a park and swing set. “We have sponsored a variety of events, including movie nights and social events, such as an Easter egg hunt,” he said.
Stockwood’s wife, Trudy, also helps with the program. As much as needing help with their homework, the students need positive interaction with adults who care, she said.
“They need positive words and encouragement,” she said. “Sometimes they’re not getting a lot of that at home.”
At a recent session, volunteers served cake in honor of one of the student’s birthdays. Treats are always a part of every session — but only after everyone has completed their homework, she said.
“We’re not a babysitting service,” Stockwood said. “We have a mission, and that’s to help students stay on track in school. We also provide a safe, positive environment after school.”
Lenexa Baptist Church Rev. Larry White said the church began helping students with their homework through the MVP program offered at Rising Star. MVP connects adult volunteers with students for on-site activities such as serving as a lunch buddy or classroom volunteer. The program then expanded into the community.
“The teachers at Rising Star noticed that children participating in the program were doing better in school, so we knew the program was making a difference,” he said.
White said volunteers serve as mentors and provide a positive role model for students. “We’re currently looking for other opportunities to help local schools and recently met with Comanche Elementary in Overland Park regarding starting a similar program,” he said.
White said teachers have observed not only an improvement in grades, but also an improvement in attitudes. “With each success, the students start feeling better about themselves, which in turn gives them a better attitude about school,” he said.