Nestled in the clubhouse of the Mullica West Apartments is a club for elementary-aged children to stop by every Tuesday and Thursday to receive help on their homework.
The club started after Cyndi Quast, who works as the deputy township clerk at Harrison Township, sought to start a program in the newly-built apartment complex for kids to stop by.
“She coordinates with the schools and reaches out to the students’ teachers to see if they need help with a lesson or see if they need extra help on something,” said volunteer Denise Boyle. “In the summer, we do a free lunch program mid-day. In that, we did some learning exercises, but we mostly played and ate lunch.”
Boyle added Quast works with the developer, Ron Rukestein, to gather donations for lunch supplies, and Rukestein helps fill in the gaps of what’s needed.
“This program gives them a safe space, somewhere they’ll feel comfortable and they feel they can ask questions that they may not feel confident to ask in class,” said Clearview Regional High School senior and tutor Kepler Palasio-Soto. “Along with just allowing time for them to do their work and get ahead. ”
Palasio-Soto, who doesn’t reside in the neighborhood, stops by the club twice a week to tutor the kids.
“If I see that they’re working on something, for me, it’s less about the worksheet itself, and more about concepts they’re learning in class and getting those down before they do anything,” Palasio-Soto said.
He added the school’s National Honor Society chapter was contacted by the club for student-tutors and he signed up.
For him, he said it’s more rewarding to help the kids understand the concepts of what they’re learning because “the education system isn’t always fool-proof,” so he tailors his tutoring sessions to the students’ needs.
“Unless you’ve grown up in an environment where school becomes a challenge at home, whether it’s due to family issues or home issues, you may not know the challenges each kid goes through each day just to be able to sit down and do their homework,” he said.
Denise Racano, president of the Mullica Hill Rotary Club, and the rest of the members donated seven Chromebooks to the club to give the students an opportunity to learn outside of school.
“Our Rotary Club applied for a grant from our district, and we received money. We went out and bought the Chromebooks,” said Racano. “We want to support education and literacy.”
Racano added the Chromebooks aren’t something foreign to the students because they’re used on a near-daily basis while at school. The students, she said, are able to research information without having someone tell them “this is how it should be done.”
“Wherever you are, try to find a program like this or start one because the more kids you can help and reach with school, the better the outcome is in the future with all kids who need help” Palasio-Soto added.