Star-C & Covid-19

When board of Atlanta Public Schools (APS) made the tough decision to close schools to reduce the spread of COV-19, overnight the homes of its 54,946 enrolled students became make-shift classrooms.  Unfortunately, not all homes are created equal.

The children living at Summerdale Apartments in our Star-C program attend Cleveland Elementary, and we currently house approximately 63 students or 20% of the school population.  100% of its students rely on the federal “free and reduced” lunch program for meals.

Effective classroom teaching and learning requires expensive resources.  School supplies, nutritious meals, computers/technology and tutoring in a safe supervised environment are critical to equalize education, regardless of family income.  APS has done a commendable job delivering these critical resources in the classroom; however, for the children in their apartments at Summerdale, these resources are simply not available.

Let’s start with digital access.  During this pandemic, APS is providing instructional lessons through “Google Classroom”, an on-line portal that links teachers, students and lessons, accessible through a laptop and internet.  Unfortunately, almost two years after we purchased Summerdale, many of our apartment buildings don’t have internet wiring, despite our diligent efforts with our cable provider.  But internet access almost doesn’t matter because only 3 students attending Cleveland Elementary have access to a home computer.  Rent, utilities, food, medicine and student loans take priority over computers and technology, when you are living on $26,500 per year.

Without access to their teachers and classroom instruction, what are our Star-C Summerdale students doing with their time?  Most are isolated at home under the supervision of a sibling or great grandparent, because the single-parent earner is working their “essential” hourly job on poverty wages and praying the federal stimulus packages bring relief.  APS has offered devices and “hot spots” for all its students, but without supervision or technology proficiency, the home learning environment is challenging.

What are we doing with our time?  We are getting ready!  We have a wonderful partnership with Cleveland Elementary and Ms. Kristen, our Star-C director who runs our free after-school and summer camp programs, is gearing up for the additional tutoring required to bring these children back up to schedule, before the start of the 2020-2021 school year.  Hopefully by then, Summerdale will be wired for internet access for all its residents and more solutions to narrow the digital divide.

Coronavirus Blues

We miss them. One day we are planning our St. Patrick’s Day party and the next we are being told that we must shut our doors due to the threat of a new strain of a virus that our country knows very little about. At first it was okay because I think we were all ready for another break. With Spring Break right around the corner, we weren’t too upset about a few extra days to relax. But a few extra days turned into two weeks and now four. Today is day nine and we are told that we may not go back when we thought we would. We miss our kids. We miss them running off the bus to tell us what they did at school today, we miss them holding us tight as they express hurt from a friend, but most of all we miss the amazing sound of their laughter. They just have a way of making every day better.

Our hearts are broken because although we know our home school and county are doing their best to provide for our littles the truth is families will still go without as a result of the shutdown. Our hearts are broken because we know and understand that many of our children won’t have an outlet because well the reality is not every home is a safe place. School and ASP are an escape for most. Our hearts are broken because we know although there are free resources out there not every child will eat every day or get an after-school snack as they would with us. Our hearts are broken because the children we worked so hard to help get on track academically will more than like fall behind again because well, no one is reading to them at home, or checking the new online homeschooling material, or pushing them to go the extra mile.

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 We miss them. One day we are planning our St. Patrick’s Day party and the next we are being told that we must shut our doors due to the threat of a new strain of a virus that our country knows very little about. At first it was okay because I think we were all ready for another break. With Spring Break right around the corner, we weren’t too upset about a few extra days to relax. But a few extra days turned into two weeks and now four. Today is day nine and we are told that we may not go back when we thought we would. We miss our kids. We miss them running off the bus to tell us what they did at school today, we miss them holding us tight as they express hurt from a friend, but most of all we miss the amazing sound of their laughter. They just have a way of making every day better.

Our hearts are broken because although we know our home school and county are doing their best to provide for our littles the truth is families will still go without as a result of the shutdown. Our hearts are broken because we know and understand that many of our children won’t have an outlet because well the reality is not every home is a safe place. School and ASP are an escape for most. Our hearts are broken because we know although there are free resources out there not every child will eat every day or get an after-school snack as they would with us. Our hearts are broken because the children we worked so hard to help get on track academically will more than like fall behind again because well, no one is reading to them at home, or checking the new online homeschooling material, or pushing them to go the extra mile.

But as we consider the possibilities, who knows maybe this will bring families closer and encourage more quality time. Maybe parents will be more involved in their children’s education, because well, right now homeschooling is real and it’s all we’ve got. Maybe as a result the educational system will make a shift in the resources needed to meet the needs of every child, rich or poor. It’s easy to dwell on the negative because well we miss our kids, but what if the outcome is a good one. Our hope is that although this is a pandemic that we will not soon forget the end game will be a necessary change for our community and our schools. In the meantime, although we miss our kids, we have hope that we will be reunited very soon. First order of business will be homework and snacks out on the lawn so we can enjoy this beautiful weather.

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Coronavirus Blues

We miss them. One day we are planning our St. Patrick’s Day party and the next we are being told that we must shut our doors due to the threat of a new strain of a virus that our country knows very little about. At first it was ok because I think we were all ready for another break. With Spring Break right around the corner, we weren’t too upset about a few extra days to relax. But a few extra days turned into two weeks and now four. Today is day nine and we are told that we may not go back when we thought we would. We miss our kids. We miss them running off the bus to tell us what they did at school today, we miss them holding us tight as they express hurt from a friend, but most of all we miss the amazing sound of their laughter. They just have a way of making every day better.

Our hearts are broken because although we know our home school and county are doing their best to provide for our littles the truth is families will still go without as a result of the shutdown. Our hearts are broken because we know and understand that many of our children won’t have an outlet because well the reality is not every home is a safe place. School and ASP are an escape for most. Our hearts are broken because we know although there are free resources out there not every child will eat every day or get an after-school snack as they would with us. Our hearts are broken because the children we worked so hard to help get on track academically will more than like fall behind again because well, no one is reading to them at home, or checking the new online homeschooling material, or pushing them to go the extra mile.

blog pic 3

We miss them. One day we are planning our St. Patrick’s Day party and the next we are being told that we must shut our doors due to the threat of a new strain of a virus that our country knows very little about. At first it was ok because I think we were all ready for another break. With Spring Break right around the corner, we weren’t too upset about a few extra days to relax. But a few extra days turned into two weeks and now four. Today is day nine and we are told that we may not go back when we thought we would. We miss our kids. We miss them running off the bus to tell us what they did at school today, we miss them holding us tight as they express hurt from a friend, but most of all we miss the amazing sound of their laughter. They just have a way of making every day better.

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Our hearts are broken because although we know our home school and county are doing their best to provide for our littles the truth is families will still go without as a result of the shutdown. Our hearts are broken because we know and understand that many of our children won’t have an outlet because well the reality is not every home is a safe place. School and ASP are an escape for most. Our hearts are broken because we know although there are free resources out there not every child will eat every day or get an after-school snack as they would with us. Our hearts are broken because the children we worked so hard to help get on track academically will more than like fall behind again because well, no one is reading to them at home, or checking the new online homeschooling material, or pushing them to go the extra mile.

 

When Community Comes Together, We Create Family.

Our community is rich with families who help each other get through. From moms who watch each other’s children to families who live together, we know what it looks like for the community to become family. We’re witnessing it in our own center with our own kids as well. Friendships are forming with kids who before would probably never even speak to one another. Our first graders and fifth graders are bonding over (please see our pics below if you have no idea what a ble ble is!) and comic books.

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Girls and boys are sitting together to discuss anime and superheroes. And girls of different nationalities are huddling together outside to create new dances and flipping techniques.Through and from our students, We’re learning that family can look different every day and community is about how you feel with one another. We often group our kids together by grade (because it’s just easier on everyone) and we love to see our kids bond together over it. They know each other’s teachers, siblings, and some even know the names of cousins who come to visit for the weekend. One group of people who we don’t often highlight but who play a huge role in our community, are the moms and dads of our students. We have moms who come in and hang out with us for hours, getting to know the kids and even taking some home for sleepovers and outings. Our moms bring us things we need for our students and our center. One mom brought us a speaker when our internet went down for a few hours and completely saved our monstrous musical chairs game with students and volunteers.

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Another mom has come to help us clean up after a long day of pizza and partying. We have parents who come to host small birthday gatherings with homemade cupcakes and balloons and we have dads who spend time with our boys, throwing the football outside during fall break in place of their fathers who are absent or working. We love our community and know we’re doing something right when our kids who have already graduated from elementary school stop in everyday to say hi to us. We love our community and what it means to truly serve as a family, not just for the family. Our hope is that we’ll continue to grow into a huge network of people helping people.

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Welcome to 2020….January was just the beginning!

2019 was a whirlwind for us at Star-C Summerdale/Springview. We celebrated academic successes, a new playground and beautiful partnerships. We ended our year of achievement by celebrating with Ms. Kristin as she graduated from Florida A&M University in December. 2019 was definitely one for the record books and we are so thankful that we got to experience it together.

This also made us extremely excited to embark on all of the adventures that a new year brings us. We welcomed January 2020 by adding a whopping 8 new students representing 4 families to our after-school community.  We spent our time growing together by doing a deep dive into the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., learning the background of Black History month and its founding, and learning the first stanza of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” as we prepare to head into Black History Month.

We added some new books to our collection, including, “Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History,” and it has encouraged many of us as we have embarked on the journey of crafting books of our own.

While January has presented many challenges, it has also given us much to be excited about and to celebrate and for that, we welcome 2020 with open arms as we vow to continue to grow what we know together!

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Peace Playground on MLK DAY!

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Peace Playground is a program that is done weekly during our summer camp at the Willow Branch Apartments. Every year on Martin Luther King Jr. day, we revisit the program and hold a special event. Peace Playground focuses on the key principles surrounding the topics of Non-Violence that Dr. King wrote about and used in the Civil Rights Movement. For a better understanding for our kids who participate, the key principles have been re-written and named the “Principles of Peace”. These 6 principles are a framework for how we work on forming a peaceful community.

  1. Brave people live in peace.
  2. A loving community makes a peaceful world.
  3. Fight bad things not bad people.
  4. Be peaceful when others are not, because that is the peaceful world we want.
  5. Avoid violence on the inside and outside.
  6. The whole world is on the side of good.

This year the theme of Peace Playground was titled “Join the Movement”. We participated in some dramas, poetry, dancing, singing and art. First, we engaged in activities that supported our theme, starting with keeping our bodies in movement. We have learned how engaging the body is a way to let out pain, hardship and bring joy. Second, we created banners of different movements that will hang for show in our After-School Center. Last, we sang joyful songs together, and topped it off with some dancing of course! We ended our “Join the Movement” activities with a group discussion expressing the healing of movement, and how these movements can result in participating in creating our peace within our own communities. “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

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Ending On A High Note

As we close out a year and half of programming at the Star-C After School Program at Summerdale Springview, we are excited to celebrate our many wins and plan for an amazing continuation of the 2019-2020 school year! We have learned many things over the last 18 months, and we want to share some of our biggest lessons with you.

  1. Change your mindset, change your life. Winning, just like learning, doesn’t start in the classroom. It starts in the mind. As we re-frame our thoughts around our abilities and how we can use what we already have and know to get what we want and need, we have found ourselves achieving more than we thought possible.
  2. Direction is critical to success. Once we know where we’re going and what we want, we can develop a plan for how to get there. Even if we find ourselves needing to adjust the plan along the way, if we know what direction we are headed in, having to adjust doesn’t take us off track.
  3. Community is EVERYTHING. While we all have to walk our journeys ourselves, we don’t and honestly shouldn’t walk our journeys alone. Having those that can help, encourage, and sometimes even push us along the way, helps to ensure our success in the long run.

Here’s some of what we have accomplished based on these lessons learned.

  1. On average, the students that participated in the Star-C ASP at Summerdale/Springview outperformed their peers on the Georgia Milestones test. We know that we still have a way to go in making sure that all of our students are proficient in all subject matters, but this first main achievement in that area was definitely one worthy of celebration. – Direction is critical to success.
  2. Throughout the Year students were able to add 12 new books to their at home libraries! These books have helped us to grow as good citizens, learners, and neighbors. Lessons on how to handle challenges, knowing that we are valued and loved, how to take our ideas to the next level and many more have helped us to upgrade our entire though process. We have greater confidence in ourselves and our ability to appropriately face whatever challenges may come our way. – Change your mindset, change your life.
  3. We were able to build an amazing new playground that has energized the entire community. Through our partnership with KABOOM! and CarMax Cares we were able to bring together over 200 volunteers to get this beautiful playground built in a single day and to remind everyone that great things come out of the Southside, which means great things have to go into it too! We are so thankful for all off the greatness that took place on that day! – Community is EVERYTHING.

Finally, in a special moment that I was able to share with my kiddos and community, I completed my undergraduate studies and received a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Quantitative Analysis and Education and a minor in Business from Florida A&M University. At one point, a dream that I had put to the side, this former dream became my reality after one additional semester of really hard work. My kiddos became my inspiration and accountability as we shared our goals and dreams while we did homework and studied together. In the end, while they couldn’t attend graduation, we celebrated together and ended this accomplishment with a commitment to each other that we would all continuously do our best, believe the impossible, never give up, and encourage each other to do what we needed to do along the way to ensure that we were in the best position to live our dreams. In part, I did this to be a living example of the fact that it’s never to late to dream and live a new dream. I wanted to motivate them with a real life, tangible example of what hard work can get. I wanted to challenge them with every A along the way. But in the end, when it sometimes got really difficult, and I honestly wanted to give up, it was them that reminded me that it was all worth it in the end. It was them that encouraged, loved and supported me getting across the finish line. They were not only a part of my why, they ended up being a huge piece of my how. I don’t know if I could have done this without them. I am thankful that I had them to be a part of this with me. And in this we lived out all three lessons together.

Change your mindset, change your life.

Direction is critical to success.

And above all, community is indeed EVERYTHING.

May these three lessons carry you to greatness and beyond in the days, weeks and months ahead!

Here’s to great things in the New Year and Beyond!

Happy New Year Friends!

 

What’s In The Soul Of A Child?

A detailed look at children and what they need to be happy…and whole.

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I grew up thinking that being a child meant you were told to sit down and do the right thing — even if the right thing meant sitting in your seat quietly while the teacher talked because if you asked to go to the bathroom, you’d be yelled at profusely. 

When I was a child, I spoke like a child. I played like a child. I even thought like a child – childish things, like rainbows and muddy puddles. These days our children are growing up in the age where they know more about love and hip hop then they do about Lion King and Mufasa. 

I have done a lot of thinking on the souls of children. I have taken the time to tell each one of them about what I see in them and I have found that even in the midst of this weird human experience, kids have souls too — and their souls need to be fed. 

It’s a strange concept to visualize but one that is very simple to grasp. Kids are like human adults, they need things to survive. Healing, creativity, community, love, and most of all, they need to feel fulfilled in order to feel worthy. 

I work with elementary school students. In case you aren’t familiar, that’s age 5 to 11ish, depending on the grade and date of birth and and what they’ve been doing academically for the past five years. I work with elementary school kids who know right from wrong and can pretty much tell you everything you need to know about hip hop artists of the time.

But what our kids don’t know, is who the lost fish on Finding Nemo is. Or how many dwarfs Snow White had. Or who gave Sleeping Beauty the apple. They don’t know kid stuff. Or things I would consider to be kid stuff. They didn’t know who Elsa was. or who the sad donkey is that follows Pooh around. 

… 

Kids are useless if they don’t have purpose. I know. I’ve seen it. If they aren’t given anything to do with themselves, they’ll find something to do — and depending on what that something is, it may just be trouble or bullying or calling each other names at the snack table. 

I have formed a theory on these kids. And the theory is: they need to find ways to be kids again; and that is not going to be but here are some thoughts. 

First, we need to reintroduce kids to creativity. They need to be reminded that it is OK to create things and then leave them be to create new things. 

In our program, we have these themes we use daily. We call them, Meditation Monday, Trivia Tuesday, Writing Wednesday, Therapy Thursday, and Fun Friday. Maybe not the most creative names in the world but bear with us, we’re doing it. 

Kids are used to themes. They see them in school all the time. They know what these things are, especially writing, and they hate them. They hate them with passion; until they’re forced to do them and then they realize that themes can be fun and meditation can actually relax you. 

We’ve tried very strategic ways to engage the souls of our children over the last 6 weeks or so and found some similarities in their reactions. 

  1. They love story time. On days where we sit and read together as a group, they are 

locked in until the very last page. Wondering and wanting to be a part of something, even if it is just a book. 2. They are innocent. They act big and bad and tough at times but really, they are just 

kids who want to just be kids, without the responsibility of heavy situations that cause 

them angst. When we catch them in their element, they are there, bouncing around, playing games and hugging each other — calling it wrestling or touch football or whatever. 3. They are human. Our human souls are very very prone to connection. We want to 

connect to something. We need to connect to something. And our kids are no different. They need and want to connect to something — even if that something doesn’t benefit them. We find that our kids are just like us, gravitating to what’s popular and “fitting” even if or until they realize that what they are attracted to hurts them, and maybe they need to find a new crew to hang with. 

Our kids need balance. They need to be told what to do but in a manner they can receive it. They need to be loved and helped but also scorned when they are wrong. They need to be shown the way to being healthy and whole and responsible, but really, they just need to be shown that it’s ok to be a kid. It’s ok to mess up and have secrets and feel feelings that don’t always feel good. They need to know there is a teacher or adult who can react calmly to their mistakes or their woes without freaking out or making them feel as if what they’re doing is wrong. 

They have that in our program. We try anyway. And the more we get to know them, the more we understand that the way we speak to them, is the way they’ll speak to us. And the way we treat them, is the way they’ll treat each other. It may take awhile, and we may not ever get to see the fruition but even if we’ve simply laid the foundation, we can be rest assured that they’ll somehow, someway, find their way back to a healthy, beautiful soul. Star-c Blog

We Use Daily Themes to Heal, Connect, and Progress.

 

june blog pic 1Social Emotional Learning has become an important attribute to include in everyday care for our kids. Since Star-C started at Stratford Ridge Apartments in January, we’ve been using daily themes as intentional ways to serve the areas of the brain, body, and soul that often go neglected because of busy schedules.

These daily themes are Meditation Monday, Trivia Tuesday, Writing Wednesday, Therapy Thursday, and Fun Friday. The activities we do in our program are fun and intentional ways to serve our kids, while providing extra support to help them be well, overcome obstacles, and heal from trauma they may experience every day.

june blog pic 2Meditation Monday

Meditation Monday is our way to create some calm in the room. Every Monday, we do different things that represent or align with the practice of meditation. Whether it’s journaling quietly, sitting in silence, doing yoga, or listening to soft music, meditation is always a way to calm ourselves, redirect our emotions and have an intentional moment to just relax and reflect.

june blog pic 6Trivia Tuesday

Trivia is our way of bringing learning to the kids in a fun, competitive way. They LOVE competition and doing things that may result in candy for the winning team. Trivia has become a favorite for the kids, because they get to show off what they know. It requires them to use their brains quickly, and we’re VERY intentional about making them work together – emphasizing teamwork and good sportsmanship.

june blog pic 4Writing Wednesday

Writing has been proven to release anxiety, tension, and anger. It’s a universal way of processing emotion and expression. We let our kids be free in their writing without judgment. Not only does it help them express themselves, it helps them work on their spelling, comprehension and storytelling abilities. Some kids get carried away and find solace in being able to write without grading or comparison. It’s simply free expression.

june blog pic 7Therapy Thursday

Therapy Thursday focuses on different therapy practices to help us feel better. Some days, we sit in a circle and talk about our feelings and other days, we work on self-image by drawing a self-portrait and writing words that describe who we are. Art therapy, physical therapy, yoga therapy, and talk therapy are all different ways to help us clear out our minds and hearts.

 

june blog pic 5Fun Friday

Fun Friday is all about games and movies. As human beings, it is essential for us to play for no reason. It gives us joy and happiness to just be free to run around, try new things, and laugh at ourselves when we lose. That’s all Friday is about. Letting go and being free with no inhibitions.

*Kudos to Star-C at Stratford Ridge staff, Katia Bowers and Tasha Brandon for developing these impactful themes!

Thank You!

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A year ago, Star-C Programs had the honor of receiving a new playground lead by KaBOOM, funded by CarMax and built by many employees and community volunteers. Last week we celebrated our one year anniversary for our playground, and the start of Summer for our kids at Willow Branch in the Star-C after-school program.
A special thanks to all the support CarMax has given. And to all of our volunteers who are constantly putting a smile on our children’s faces.
All of you have helped improve the lives of our residents within our community!
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