The Children’s After School Achievement (CASA) program at Hope College will work with its elementary-age students remotely this fall with additional support from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.

CASA, a community program of Hope College established in 1987, provides academic and cultural enrichment for approximately 100 underrepresented first- through fifth-grade students from Holland and West Ottawa. The program, which runs year-round, is intended to improve the students’ academic performance by providing the tools they need to succeed in school.

The foundation has awarded CASA $25,000 through its COVID-19 Community Stabilization Fund for the coming school year after observing CASA’s remote-learning summer session in action.  The grant will help provide additional materials and Hope-student staffing for the after-school program to continue to serve the children, who won’t be coming to campus because of precautions at the college due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the particularly high barriers that elementary students face to engaging in this environment and the crucial stage they are at in their educational journeys, CASA’s commitment and ability to meet the real-time needs of children and families this summer and the lengths to which CASA’s team is going to make this happen stood out to our group,” said Elizabeth E. Kidd, who is the foundation’s vice president of community impact/people and culture.

“We recognize that this fall and upcoming school year will pose equally complex challenges and CASA’s consistent presence and support will be more critical than ever for the children and families CASA serves,” she said.  “We hope these resources will assist CASA in developing new formats for program activities and coordinating efforts with students’ schools as everyone navigates the uncertainty of what the 2020-2021 school year will look like.”

CASA’s programming will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and continue through Friday, Nov. 13.

 “We’re grateful to the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area for its support,” said Fonda Green, executive director of CASA.  “We’re committed to helping the children succeed academically no matter what the format, and the funding from the foundation is enabling us to reimagine our approach and provide robust and engaging remote tutoring.”

During a traditional school year, the children meet after school on the Hope College campus twice per week in one-on-one sessions with volunteer tutors, most of whom are students enrolled in Educational Psychology, the college’s initial course for those preparing to become teachers.  During a traditional summer session, CASA runs four classes, each led by a certified teacher and assistant four mornings a week for six weeks, providing a mixture of academic work as well as enrichment programs.

This fall, as during the summer session, the instruction will take place through platforms such as FaceTime, Google Meet and Zoom.  To help the student volunteers make the most of the fall’s online format, CASA will be hiring upper-level education students as Student Academic Coordinators to mentor the tutors.

“Each of the upper-level students will work with a specific group of about five tutors,” Green said.  “They’ll help develop specific activities for the tutors and children, and provide guidance for our volunteers about how to tutor effectively.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for both CASA and the students that we’ll be hiring,” she said.  “Our tutors and the children will benefit from their experience, and they in turn will be gaining additional experience that they will take with them into their careers as teachers.”

Green noted that CASA will also be building on its experience working with the children remotely during this past summer’s program.  “We’ve learned that it can work well, and found creative ways to keep the children engaged even though they weren’t on campus,” she said.

During the summer, for example, CASA adopted the theme “CASA on the Go” and provided educational kits that were delivered weekly to the students’ homes.  Each contained materials related to their coursework and activities focused on wellness and family activities.  “The children loved them, the families were excited to see what was in them, and the teachers were able to provide real-time materials for the lessons they were leading,” Green said.  Participation also earned the children points for weekly awards and tickets for regular drawings for prizes such as family gift boxes and for one of two bikes donated as grand prizes.

The grant will help CASA provide materials for the lessons and activities that are developed for the coming school year, but will also help solve some logistical challenges.  For example, the tutors typically help the children with their reading or workbook assignments, but when paired remotely won’t have direct access to the material.  The program is investigating acquiring copies of some of the items so that the tutors can also have them at hand.

CASA operates as part of a network at the college focused on enhancing young students’ educational achievement, serving the community along with Step Up and Hope College TRiO Upward Bound.  Both the Upward Bound and Step Up programs will also be working with their students remotely this fall in lieu of meeting on campus.

Hope College TRiO Upward Bound seeks to generate the skills and motivation necessary for success in education beyond high school among students from low-income and first-generation families who have the potential to pursue a college education but may lack adequate preparation or support. Established in 1968, the program is one of the oldest continuous Upward Bound programs in the country, and has been administered through Hope since its inception.

Step Up has existed since 2010, when CASA and Upward Bound felt the time was right to pilot a support project for middle school students, a population not served by either of the other programs. Step Up provides academic support in a mentoring context to underrepresented middle school students with academic need in the Holland area.