Ann Arbor’s REACH (Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Community, and Hope) program engages low-income, K-5 students in tutoring and activities to develop social skills and educational excellence. With the help of nearly 200 volunteers, the afterschool program is designed to be both rewarding and fun to keep kids and families coming back.
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
Peace Neighborhood Center Children’s Service Coordinator Terri Strom:
When parents want to learn about REACH, I tell them that this is not a typical program. Often, people think that an afterschool program is a place where students have a “hang-out” place to go for a few hours, and then head home.
It’s much different than that. Our staffers and volunteers organize REACH activities and design them to promote social and educational skills. We do it through tutoring programs, including one-on-one homework help and supplemental educational and enrichment activities. Our goal is to support kids and their families both socially and academically and to provide the
Our goal is to support kids and their families both socially and academically and to provide the experiences that will help them grow.
experiences that will help them grow.
We really go the extra mile for our kids and their families. We will go to school meetings and parent-teacher conferences with them, offer evaluation and assistance, and attend I.E.P. [Individualized Education Program
] meetings to advocate and to help parents understand these processes so that they’ll be able to advocate for their children in the future.
We help children learn at REACH, but learning absolutely must have fun elements to keep kids engaged. So, if a first grader has trouble reading, we will read with them and play educational games that involve reading. You can do a lot of work with kids without letting them in on the fact that that they are learning. Junior Scrabble is one example of a game we use that teaches them word skills while they have fun.
Our activities are centered on the current month’s theme. Monthly themes are all character traits like trust, respect, compassion, and self-discipline. We blend theme-related teachings into activities and hobbies that kids enjoy. One very important component of the REACH program is circle time, where we all sit in a circle and talk about our activities and how they relate to the character trait theme of the month before breaking into groups.
REACH is very structured. On Tuesdays, volunteers work on science, yoga, drum line, chess, dance, and cooking with our kids. On Thursdays, there are academic clubs and a light meal, along with indoor or outdoor free time, games, toys, books, arts and crafts and other things.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Longstanding ties to the community have developed a trust between the parents, the children, and our staff. The success that they see our programs have is another reason that trust is nurtured. The keys to success start with the investment of staff and volunteers and the relationships that kids form with them. This is what keeps them coming back.
When kids graduate from REACH, they can move on to youth programs for middle schoolers in sixth to eighth grades, and then to programs for high school students, with programs tailored for youth to the college-level. A large percentage of our REACH kids come back year after year after year.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to
A major challenge is maintaining a big enough volunteer staff to support the work that we want to do, because more and
Race and diversity intersect our work directly because we have lots of diversity among the staff and within the program.
more children want to be a part of REACH. There are about 70 children in the program, of the 90 registered, so we have a waiting list.
It surprises many people that we pick the children up and drop them off after the program is finished. It’s great to offer transportation, but, again, the challenge we face is recruiting volunteers who will consistently stay involved. The volunteers that chaperone our bus are a priority. We do not want people who just stay for a while and then go. We need this commitment so we can provide consistent transportation for these kids.
Again, we desperately need volunteers; they could be retired teachers, college students studying education, social service groups, and local faith groups. I am trying to find new ways to reach out. I’m planning to target retired people by reaching out at senior centers and am always looking for new ways to educate people and expand outreach efforts.
How does race or diversity affect the work of your program?
Race and diversity intersect our work directly because we have lots of diversity among the staff and within the program. All kinds of diversity: ethnical, economical, racial, cultural, and various religious beliefs. We are very thoughtful about diversity; it’s a definite plus. It brings us opportunities to share the experience and customs that help make people who they are.
What are people in your program most inspired by?
I have heard so many inspirational stories from children and adults who have gone through the program. When they share stories about overcoming problems that really inspires me. Maybe if more outside people could see the good that this program does, they would be more eager to volunteer or to donate. This is a wonderful program doing such good for children; we need people to understand that. REACH is very close to my heart, and I consider these children my children, just like all of our staffers do here at REACH.