Emily K. Center tackles learning loss

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 06:57 PM

 “Achieve your dreams, don’t let obstacles get in your way. Dream-Do-Achieve like Martin Luther King did. Do that and success will happen in no time.”

These framed handwritten words hang on one wall in the Emily K Center, reminding the school-aged children who come through its doors that their environment does not dictate their future.

The Emily K. Center is a non-profit organization established in 2006. Its out-of-school programming aims to help academically focused students from low-income homes achieve in school, get into college and break the cycle of poverty in their families.

The center was founded and inspired by Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and named after his mother, Emily. From a poor neighborhood as a child, Krzyzewski was active at his local community center on Chicago’s North Side. The center provided much needed support and strengthened neighborhood ties, a model that he wanted to implement in Durham.

The Center uses a model called “K to college” which uses distinctive, sequential programs. It serves nearly 1,500 students and other community members monthly.

The Center’s Summer Scholars program helps low-income children from about 30 different schools in Durham address learning loss over the break by helping them maintain skills they’ve learned up during the year and gain new ones.

“Looking at the big picture, there is so much student evidence that shows kids lose ground when they are not engaged in instruction during the summer,” said Adam Eigenrauch, the Emily K. Center’s executive director. “This is a great opportunity to build on gains made during the year and to build on a really good thing and capitalize on that momentum.”

Students in Judy Morris’s class were hard at work this week making their own math-based board game. Palmer told her students they are mathematicians flown in to Emily K to create a game.

The students developed three levels of questions about patterns – easy, medium and hard – and designed their game board. Next the students have to write out the directions, keeping in mind the ages of the people who may be playing.

“There’s a lot of strategy going on with how they’re going to work their game,” Palmer said. “It’s been great to see their creativity blossom. They just came up with so many different ideas. It’s just been an awesome experience.”

Morris, a certified teacher at Hope Valley Elementary, along with the other Summer Scholar teachers develops a project for her students to complete during the five-week program. Eigenrauch approves the projects before the program starts.

“We have a great staff and they make it a little different than we do during the school year,” Eigenrauch said. “Walking around the building you can see that the students are engaged in what they’re doing, that instruction is authentic and that they’re proud of what they’re doing.

“This is what good education looks like and let’s focus on doing it well,” he said. “The mark of a great teacher is that they look for teachable moments. We have good kids who want to be successful.”

Rising fifth-graders Priscilla Dweh, Neida Robles Velasco and Anahi Menjivar were hard at work on their board games. All three said that they value what the Summer Scholar program is doing for them.

“I like that they teach me new things and how much I learn,” Dweh said.

“I like coming back here,” Robles Velasco said. “I’ve been learning a lot to help me get my grades. I’ve won many awards and I love it here at Emily K.”

“I get to learn more,” Menjivar added.

Martina Eason is working with rising ninth graders on skills they’ll need for high school, ranging from essay writing and research skills to SAT prep and leadership skills.

“They are very strong students,” she said. “They have a lot of potential. I get excited when I think about their futures.”

ZePablo Agueda-Lopez was busy on a laptop.

 “Emily K has helped us a lot academically,” Agueda-Lopez said. “We get more literature and mathematics. This is a big positive thing that can help us improve ourselves.”

Agueda-Lopez said he hopes to major in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One thing Eason’s class will have to do is come up with a proposal for what Emily K. students can do to give back to the center.

Since the Summer Scholar program employs project-based learning, it conclude with a fair where students display their work for parents and peers.

“That’s a great feeling for us and a great feeling for the kids,” Eigenrauch said.

Jerry Lopez, 13, has been with the Emily K. Center since kindergarten. He is so much of a staple that a picture of him hangs in ahallways with other students. Lopez said that the center has been there for him over the years and that he knows he has grown as a result.

“It’s helped me a lot with my homework, it gave me a place to stay after school and I’ve made new friends,” he said. “I’ve learned the Pillars (of the Emily K. Center), honesty, integrity and to have heart towards other people and how to communicate with people.

“I used to be shy but I’m not any more,” Lopez explained. “I used to hate to read out loud but now I only like to read out loud. The tutors here are great. The schedule is timed and very thought out. It helps a lot. It can change your life.”