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Kenyon students and East Knox team up in face of cuts

Kenyon students and East Knox team up in face of cuts

In order to counteract budget cuts and decreased classroom time, students and community members will volunteer at East Knox.

By Graham Reid

A mere six miles from Kenyon lies the East Knox Local School District, a system ravaged by budget cuts in the wake of a failed school levy.

In response to this crisis, Phoebe Roe ’16, who is also the Collegian’s news assistant, founded a group dedicated to helping the district: the Partnership of East Knox County and Kenyon College (PEKK). The effort now includes around 100 individual volunteers and roughly 15 organizations, with approximately 250 Kenyon students involved in PEKK altogether.  

The group has a long-term vision for a range of projects including assistant teaching, fundraisers and after-school mentoring. “We’re hoping to build relations with the kids, help them with homework, things like that,” Roe said.

Assistant Principal of East Knox Middle and High School Derick Busenburg hopes the partnership proves “a long lasting genuine partnership between our two schools. That would be outstanding for our kids and also provide valuable experience for Kenyon students.”

Kenyon students will also have the opportunity to teach lessons during the time East Knox Middle and High School students would otherwise be in study hall. Budget cuts forced four of these free periods into students’ daily schedules. In the elementary school, Professor of Spanish Clara Roman-Odio, PEKK’s advisor, is working to bring Kenyon students into classrooms as teaching aides in Spanish, math, reading and art.

The project’s implementation has not been without its challenges. Kenyon students must drive to the school district, which makes finding time to volunteer more difficult.  “The scheduling is rough,” Roe said. “It’s a matter of getting people out there.”
On East Knox’s side, Busenburg was initially worried the project would bring extra work and complications. “My first reaction was a combination of excitement and hesitancy,” he said.

According to Busenburg, Roe’s efforts to alleviate his worries by improving programs that are already in place has been “persistent, organized [and] enthusiastic.”

While Roe was at first concerned that potential socioeconomic differences between Kenyon and East Knox students would pose an issue, she realized after her first day with the students that “they’re very eager to learn from us.” She found the administration much more amenable to the partnership than she had expected.

Leaders of the group are hopeful students on both sides will benefit from the program. “We are excited at the idea of exploring and supporting [and] offering Kenyon students an opportunity to see the real world and needs, and practice teaching skills,” Roman-Odio said.

Busenburg, too, anticipates “a good working relationship where our students benefit,” and thinks the partnership will be helpful for all. Ultimately, the group hopes to push Kenyon students to look beyond the bubble of the Hill and help the greater community. “We have the opportunity to make a difference here, and we’re not given that opportunity frequently,” Roe said.

One of Roe’s primary goals is to help high school students look into and ultimately attend college; East Knox has historically had low rates of students moving into higher education. This year, according to Roe, about one third of seniors took the ACT or SAT. The partnership will send college admissions counselors to East Knox for a day in May and also plans to bring some high school students to Kenyon’s campus.

Though leaders are still working out the project’s logistics, its leaders are confident Kenyon students will find the job fulfilling. “I think Kenyon kids are really going to enjoy the experience,” Roe said.

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