Learning Club inspires students to work hard, dream big

Treasure and Markayla show off one of the Kenti cloth panels that will decorate their tutoring room at Pemberton Park. (photo courtesy Mikala Sullivan)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Picture this. A room filled with tables surrounded by chairs, a group of boys and girls aged first through eighth grade and, at each table, an adult eager and ready to work with a child on reading, writing or math homework. There is a warm sense of belonging and camaraderie. This is a tutoring session of The Learning Club at Pemberton Park Apartments in Kansas City, Mo.

Founded in 2002 by Brad Grabs after he was assaulted and mugged by two teenagers near his Kansas City, Kansas home, The Learning Club is an after-school and summer learning program that helps kids growing up in Kansas City’s urban core progress academically and develop a love of learning. This in turn leads them to begin dreaming of leadership and success in their lives.

The inspiration behind The Learning Club is stated on their website: “Believing that each child is inherently good and immensely valuable, we strive to create an environment in our classroom and in our neighborhood where it is easier for youth to be good, to dream, and to succeed.”

The first Learning Club group formed at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kan. Grabs, a former Rockhurst High School teacher, was well equipped to interest both kids and adults in the tutoring. Since then, The Learning Club has taken root and grown and is now at six sites in distressed neighborhoods, five in Kansas City, Kan., and one in Kansas City, Mo.
Pemberton Park is a public housing facility for grand-families, grandparents raising grandchildren whose parents are not in the picture. The grandparents are seniors of many ages and health situations and not always able to provide help with homework. The Learning Club changed that.

The kids come to the tutoring room around 4:30 p.m., when the bus drops them off after school and meet with the tutors. About 25 minutes is set aside for arrivals and chatter, then at 4:55 p.m., James Snow, The Learning Club’s Director of Site Operations and Site Director at Pemberton Park and at St. Margaret’s in Kansas City, Kan., makes any pertinent announcements and the kids pair with tutors and start working on homework, Math fundamentals, reading or social skills if needed. Tutoring at Pemberton Park and all the sites are one-on-one.

Often students see reading as a chore. Tutors determine the reading level of each child and try to build up their skills and interest in reading. Children read with their tutor, and complete reading worksheets to improve comprehension and vocabulary knowledge.

Students can earn points for academic progress, punctual attendance and good behavior. Healthy snacks including fruit are provided, and there is a prize shop where, at an appropriate time, kids can “buy” prizes with their points or save and earn “interest” points, thus learning the value of delayed gratification. Often the last part of the session is given to an educational game, which helps develop social skills.

There are also guest presenters, who speak about their work or activities with the goal of sparking interest in their listeners. Presentations have included knitting, chess, healthy eating, the work of firefighters and nurses, and a hands-on presentation by James Snow on science and engineering.

Students and tutors connect and develop friendships. The adults appreciate the students who in turn appreciate them, both for their academic instruction and for their friendship. Grabs commented that the adults and kids have a lot in common.
Grabs said it was important to remember that the kids in the Learning Club are kids like any other kids — they like to have fun and be silly! He added that at Pemberton Park, the grandparents are very involved with the program. Not only do they want to keep tabs on their grandchildren, they love them. And they appreciate the big brother, big sister relationships between students and tutors.

Many of the tutors at Pemberton Park are Visitation parishioners. One of the tutors, Katie Wendell, is an artist who spent many sessions working with the students on a project for the tutoring classroom. It was unveiled at the end of the Nov. 14th session.

Four panels were made of Kente cloth, a handwoven cloth originally made by the Ashanti people in the west African country of Ghana. According to legend, two men went hunting and saw a spider spinning its web. They watched it at work for two days before returning home and designed the first Kente cloth.

Wendell gave a short presentation on Kente cloth before the unveiling. The cloth was originally reserved for royalty, but today, it is available to anyone. It is characterized by patterns and specific colors, all of which have special meanings. The colors used in the student’s art project included red meaning passion, bloodshed and death; purple meaning femininity and healing; green: planting and growth; gold: royalty and wealth; black: maturation and intense spiritual energy; blue meaning peace and harmony; white purity and healing and yellow meaning preciousness, royalty, wealth and fertility.

After the unveiling, the students and tutors were treated to a pizza party. The Kente cloth panels will be hung near the ceiling in the classroom.

For more information on the Learning Club, visit www.LearningClubKCK.org or email Brad Grabs, bgrabs@learningclubkck.org.

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Sunday
December 16, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph