UpSpring teams up with Newport Intermediate School to create after-school program for homeless kids

'They're going to make new friends'

NEWPORT, Ky. — For kids who are homeless, all the uncertainty in their lives can make it difficult to be part of after-school clubs and activities.

That will change for some young Newport students in January, thanks to a collaboration between Newport Intermediate School and UpSpring, a local nonprofit that serves the educational needs of homeless youth.

The program — tentatively called Club UpSpring — will meet once a week and serve 16 students at Newport Intermediate, which has students from third through fifth grades.

Related: Heroin is making kids homeless in Northern Kentucky

The club will target students experiencing homelessness, but the goal is to help the kids feel more like everyone else at school rather than emphasizing their struggles, said Kristy McNally, who oversees educational services for homeless students attending Newport Independent Schools.

A teacher from the school and a program manager from UpSpring will run the club with the help of two volunteers.

"We want to provide these kids with that stability and that family environment so that they have that one thing one day a week that they know is going to rock their world," McNally said. "They're going to feel secure. They're going to laugh. They're going to make new friends."

The academic elements of the program will be focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, said Mike Moroski, UpSpring's executive director.

Reaching Kids' Hearts

The program also aims to help kids create something they can keep, said Lily Raphael, UpSpring's program manager.

"We like the idea of project-based learning and having something at the end that kids can see, feel and touch," said Alex Kuhns, UpSpring's program director.

UpSpring, which was formerly known as Faces Without Places, is paying for the program. It will cost about $11,000 this school year to pay for materials and staff time, Moroski said.

Mike Moroski

The first half of this school year has been spent planning and figuring out how the club will work. The club will meet from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays. The meetings will start Jan. 25, and the kids in the group will get to make up a name for it the first day, Raphael said.

The group will be limited to 16 students so each child will be able to get plenty of attention from one of the four adults there, Kuhns said.

"It's easier to manage social and emotional issues when you can take time out," he said. "We know that these children are experiencing a lot of trauma or just mixed emotions."

This school year, 39 of Newport Intermediate's 425 students — or about 9 percent — have been identified as homeless.

Roughly 8 percent of all the school district's students are experiencing homelessness, which amounts to an average of two or three children in every class of 30.

McNally said she plans to start talking with parents about the new program after the school's winter break.

She envisions community service being part of the club's work, too, so that kids experiencing homelessness can understand what they can give back to the community.

"I always feel that if you get in touch with a kid's heart, the academics follow," she said. "I hope it's as good as we all think it's going to be. I don't know how it can't be when you're bringing a group of kids together."

Kristy McNally with a cabinet full of school supplies she gives to kids who are homeless when they need them.

To learn more about UpSpring or to donate, click here.

A Northern Kentucky Forum called "Homelessness: Examining Causes, Finding Solutions"  will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Covington Branch of the Kenton County Public Library. For more details, click here.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO this year. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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