Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Lynda Kohler, president and CEO of SHARP Literacy, Inc.
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The summer slide is a phenomenon that education experts have talked about for years. Some kids lose some of what they’ve learned during the school year over summer break. But now there are also concerns about a Cslide, since kids haven’t been in the classroom since March. Lynda Kohler is the president and CEO of SHARP Literacy, Inc., and she recently invited CBS 58 to see what they’re doing to keep kids engaged in learning.
On a recent day, we visited the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center in Milwaukee to see SHARP’s Urban Agriculture Program.
“We picked some zucchini, some banana peppers, and some cucumbers,” said 9-year-old Branden Owens.
A lot of the vegetables are new to the kids.
“Twist! And pull,” instructed teacher, Miss Micah, showing the kids how to harvest their vegetables.
They’d never picked some of these vegetables, or in some cases, tasted them.
“When they brought the zucchini back and it was like this big and first of all they were like, how do you even spell zucchini? What is a zucchini,” Kohler said.
Many were excited to give them a try.
Kohler decided to turn the zucchini into zucchini bread.
Owens said he was surprised by the results.
“It was good,” he said. When asked if he thought it was going to be good, he replied with a smile, “Uh, not really.”
These new experiences are part of SHARP’s summer program at the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. After-school Program Manager, James Wilbern said he loves seeing moments like these.
“When those eyes get big and ‘wow, I never realized that,’ or they taste the sage or the chives that we have growing, and now they have a love for nutritional meals,” Wilbern said.
The group is smaller this summer and everyone, kids and adults alike, is wearing a mask.
“Things keep me up at night. It also breaks my heart,” Kohler said about the kids losing precious learning time.
But she’s determined to make sure the kids keep learning this summer.
“If they stop school in June and they don't start again until September, and if they're not reading books, or doing something, they slide,” she explained. “So, it takes them almost three months to get back to where they were.”
Kohler and her team worked hard to come up with ways to work around the pandemic.
“We got together and said, OK, what can we do? We have to do something,” she said.
Nine-year-old Arianna Cannaday is learning the science behind how plants grow.
“It was pretty amazing,” Cannaday said.
She plucked a flower from a squash plant.
“What does the flower do,” asked Miss Micah. “It attracts pollinators,” Cannaday said.
The Sharp Literacy programs combine a number of different subjects.
“I know everybody is familiar with STEM, but we add the A for art, so science and technology, art, engineering and math,” said Kohler.
These kids are growing, weeding, harvesting and even designing stakes to label the vegetables.
Wilbern said he counts on Kohler to provide these important opportunities.
“She's an awesome partner. She always underpromises and overdelivers,” he said.
He’s also seen the lasting impact Sharp’s programs can have. He uses a mural inside the center as an example.
“Kids still come back and say, I made that! They're with their parents,” Wilbern said. “They've aged out of the elementary school, but they're here visiting Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, and they still point to the mural and make sure everyone knows, they had a hand in that.”
During the school year, Sharp Literacy is in 40 different schools, serving 8,500 kids. But things are still uncertain for this year.
“The longer these kids are out of school, call it an opportunity gap, that opportunity gap is just going to continue to expand,” Kohler worries.
So she wants them to remember, learning is fun.
“Just seeing these kids, seeing them learn. Seeing them experience new things. Making them feel special,” she said. “I can guarantee you that they're going to remember this.”
For more information on SHARP Literacy, Inc., just visit https://www.sharpliteracy.org/.
And if you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, just send Natalie a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.