Closing the Gap is a four-part series by Grid highlighting education nonprofits working to make sure Philly’s literacy gap doesn’t get bigger during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the second installation. Click on the following link to read the previous piece on Mighty Writers.
For Founder and CEO of ATTRACT, Tierra Jones, cares for the kids in her programs as if they are her own, and she wants each and every one of them to know that the sky’s the limit.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it harder to get that message across to her kids.
Before shutting down, Jones, and her team relied heavily on in-person meetings, community days and cultural trips outside of the city to show their students that they could be anything they wanted to be.
“We’re trying to create things virtually, which is hard. You can’t virtually go to a museum and learn. We can play a video, but is it the same as in-person learning? Absolutely not,” Jones says.
Thanks to the help of donors, Jones says that ATTRACT is in a good place right now, but the families ATTRACT serves are low-income and may not have access to the internet. So the transition to virtual learning and communication has been difficult.
Normally, ATTRACT would host workshops at Penrose Recreation Center. Now, they host mentoring programs on Zoom and send care packages to keep their students motivated.
“We sent out masks, educational supplies, activities for positive affirmations and even pillows,” Jones says. “We wanted to make sure that they understood that we are standing with them through this difficult transition.”
For Jones, not getting that one-on-one interaction with the kids has been challenging. She admits that as a nonprofit leader this is one of the hardest transitions she has ever had to go through.
“Going from in-person programs to having to switch to virtual meetings that don’t happen as often really impacted us,” Jones says. “And we’ve all also seen how it’s impacting our students, which is a little devastating to watch.”
For some of the kids ATTRACT helps, they’re finding themselves more concerned with when their next meal will be rather than their education.
It puts Jones in a difficult situation because ATTRACT’s foundation is built on empowering youth, but that’s hard to do when the kids are going hungry.
“We’re seeing kids who are asking, ‘what’s the incentive to come to a certain workshop?’ They want to know if they’ll get a gift card for food or if we’re [having] any food giveaways,” Jones says. “Those are hard questions to answer when you are trying to motivate them and tell them you can be anything you want to be as long as you put your education first.”
Jones says she’s also been noticing that her kids are experiencing anxiety because their social lives have been uprooted, and even when they can go out, they have to wear a mask.
“They’re having a hard time with it, they’re not used to it. Even the teenagers are feeling boxed in. They don’t know which way to go,” Jones says.
Teenagers having a hard time wearing a mask is an alarming notion considering the number and rate of cases in children and teens in the United States has been steadily increasing since March, according to the CDC.
Fortunately, Jones says that the pandemic has not only brought adverse effects on her kids. She’s noticed that some of the kids are becoming more eager to learn and are trying to be more productive in order to fill their time.
To prepare for kids eventually going back to school, Jones says there needs to be some damage control. She’s worried about students without internet access falling behind even more, so she’s currently preparing for the fall by gathering volunteers to be on call for virtual tutoring sessions.
Jones is also teaming up with Philly Tutors to get one-one-one instructors so that students have someone else holding them accountable aside from their parents and guardians.
While Jones admits that this transition has not been an easy one, she thinks a transition like this is the very essence of a nonprofit organization.
“When you start a nonprofit and your mission is to serve the people, you do just that,” Jones says. “I think it would have been detrimental to the community we serve if we didn’t make this transition. This is the time to show what it means to be a nonprofit and stand with your community.”