Local nonprofits partner to bridge distance learning education gap

by Contributed Content on November 18, 2020

This fall, when schools announced plans to remain either entirely or partially virtual, Menlo Park-based Riekes Center and its longtime partners at East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring (EPATT) created a plan to support the students they knew would be most impacted by the academic disruption. Together, alongside the Ravenswood City School District, the organizations launched ePods — in-person educational support groups that provide technological and academic resources, along with educational enrichment through fitness, arts and nature connection.

With locations at both the Riekes Center and Cesar Chavez-Ravenswood Middle School, the program is hosting four stable pods of up to ten students at each site. Currently focused on K-8th grade participants, ePods provide a dedicated space with adult supervision and support, reliable internet access and academic assistance provided by EPATT, whose tutoring program has benefitted families from low-income communities for three decades.

Lex Ebbink-Alemania, Fernside Director at the Riekes Center, emphasizes that “EPATT has been one of our longest community partners. The personalized care and support that they give to their students — and their students families — to make sure that they have academic success is unparalleled.” 

The Riekes Center’s unique multidisciplinary approach provides fun and engaging enrichment activities including athletic fitness, creative arts, nature awareness and a new community gardening project. According to Kesha Weekes, EPATT’s Academic Director, “Of all the activities that I’ve seen, the one [the students] talk to me about the most is the garden. I can’t speak highly enough about the profound impact that the Riekes enrichment aspect has brought to ePods.” 

Participation in ePods has helped mitigate the isolation and disconnection children often experience with remote learning, and yet has kept them academically engaged and physically active. As Weekes attests, “After six months of sheltering in place, students have not had a lot of opportunity to interact with other kids and be social — and that’s such a big part of student development.”

Safety is the number one priority for the program. Participating staff, students and families adhere to strict Covid safety requirements including the use of face masks, regular hand washing and daily disinfection of surface areas and equipment. Parents sign a Good Citizen contract and complete a daily health report for each participating child. 

The Riekes and Ravenswood ePods are currently operating at full capacity, Monday-Friday from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. For more information on how to support or participate in the programs, email info@riekes.org.

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