Local nonprofit seeks $5,000 to help Prospect Park students

East Side Neighborhood Services is hosting an outdoor recess and learning program for kids at Luxton Park.


Parker Johnson

Participants in an after school program congregate around a fire at Luxton Park on Tuesday, Oct. 27th. The program was created to raise money for additional teachers and increase social time for students who’s education has gone completely virtual.

Lydia Morrell

Fifth-grader Rose Weaver has spent her afternoons jumping from Zoom classes at home to outdoor learning programs at Luxton Park in Prospect Park.

While Pratt Community School, where Weaver is a student, remains in distance-learning mode, a neighboring nonprofit is aiming to add two teachers to facilitate after-school programs and make sure the kids are keeping up with their remote classes.

The work of East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS) has had a great impact on Weaver’s development and her connection to peers, she said, especially thanks to Jean Emmons, the youth program manager who has worked most closely with her.

“Ms. Jean is really nice, and she always at the end of the day if we did a good job, we all get hot cocoa,” 10-year-old Weaver said. “And then she’s also helped me with a lot of my socioemotional problems. And she also because of her, in the program, I’ve gotten some friends.”

Due to remote learning, the school district could not fund an after-school program this year, said Lissa Gordon, ESNS program manager at Pratt. In past years, the school system has given ESNS enough funding for five teachers to work with kids that have academic needs.

The nonprofit is working to raise $5,000 to add two Pratt teachers, totaling four, to their after-school programming in Luxton Park. So far, a donor gifted half of the funds and the program is continuing under the hope that it will receive the other half of funding to pay teachers through December.

ESNS programming is free for families and any kid can come to recess. Kids who have registered can also come to the after-school program, which has been entirely outdoors so far. Gordon said they have focused on “nature-based play,” and invited naturalists to come educate the students about the park’s environment.

As it gets colder, organizers plan to spend half of the afternoon session inside to focus on keeping kids on task with homework and online schooling.

The additional teachers would start Nov. 30, working one-on-one with kids to assess their progress with schoolwork and help them get on track if they are slipping behind, Gordon said.

Cynthia Harms, Weaver’s mom, said Pratt Elementary has done well with online schooling, but the physical and social parts of learning are harder to access because of the pandemic. She added that more teachers would mean there would be more eyes on the kids to ensure social distancing and mask wearing.

Harms said the ESNS program is beneficial because teachers combine behavior and learning strategies with much-needed physical activities.

“After she’s either been playing soccer or playing on gym equipment, [she’s] able to focus and ready to do more cognitive learning,” Harms said.

But between her classes on Wednesday, Weaver’s focus was pointed to the prize she hoped to win at recess that afternoon.

“I have a feeling I’m going to try and still win those McDonald’s pancakes,” Weaver said. “Yesterday in four square I was doing a really good job with one hand.”