Kalamazoo County is home to a student population with great potential. Through the work of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's youth-focused community partnerships and Scholarship Program, KZCF gets a unique look into the drive, dreams and extraordinary achievements of our community's youth.

It's a serious injustice that COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the barriers that keep students -- especially students who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) -- from getting a quality education that will help them access their full potential. While some households have the means to provide the necessary supports like regular meals, technology access and environments conducive to learning, other families do not. Imagine what would be possible if the academic potential of our students was not hindered by unequal access to resources?

That's why in addition to providing food, shelter and personal protective equipment, KZCF prioritized collaboration with community partners to support students' educational and emotional needs through the COVID-19 crisis.

Providing equitable access to technology for virtual learning was one major challenge the pandemic presented. KZCF joined the new Digital Access For All (DAFA) partnership to provide Wi-Fi routers with unlimited Internet service -- at no cost -- to 1,000 households with Kalamazoo Public School students that didn't have internet access. The DAFA partnership includes Kalamazoo Public Schools, Kalamazoo Public Library, The Kalamazoo Promise, KZCF and the City of Kalamazoo with funding provided by the Foundation for Excellence and a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

"This collaboration of many talents and assets speaks to our shared commitment to closing the gap," said Carrie Pickett-Erway, president/CEO of KZCF. "Every student is deserving of a quality education free from unjust barriers."

You can support equitable access to technology for KPS students by visiting connect.kalfound.org/givenow and making a gift to the Digital Access For All Fund.

Innovative learning during a pandemic

This past summer, KYD Network -- a collaboration of youth-serving organizations focused on building systems that support youth being college, career and community ready by adulthood -- convened to develop a plan to implement Community Learning Hubs. These innovative hubs are creating access to quality environments for virtual learning, in-person and afterschool programming, mental health services and supports to families in the northside, southside, eastside and westside neighborhoods of Kalamazoo.

Community Learning Hubs targeted its supports to students who met the following criteria:
  • inconsistent engagement and learning
  • housing and food insecurity
  • physical or cognitive disabilities
  • English is a second language
  • limited or no consistent access to internet
According to KYD Network, "By providing these supports the COVID-19 'slide' will
be reduced and families who are unable to fully support their child's virtual learning will have a high quality option. We know that families with the means are hiring tutors and creating their own version of these hubs so that their children's learning needs are fully met. COVID-19 has created greater economic disparities and has negatively impacted essential workers who must leave their children at home to navigate virtual learning on their own. This model allows for the community to come together and support our most vulnerable youth."

Programming began in October 2020 and will continue through the end of the school year in 2021.

In addition to supporting KYDNet's learning hubs, funds from the KZCF Community Urgent Relief Fund also supported these education-related efforts during the pandemic:
  • Kalamazoo Literacy Council provided technology access for adult learners to complete unemployment applications and get connected to community resources for basic needs such as food and childcare. Funds supported continued learning as well as tutoring services.
  • Boys & Girls Club received support to purchase thermometers and technology for virtual programming.
  • Young Kings & Queens, an organization that provides youth with a strong support system and wide range of experiences that expand their worldview, used grant funds for virtual learning and technology to provide virtual social-emotional learning experiences for youth.

Prioritizing equity and education

This work with community demonstrates the intersection of KZCF's key priorities: equity and education. Individuals and communities are their best when they do not face unjust barriers to the resources that enable them to thrive. Inequity is a resource imbalance that continues to harm our community and country. KZCF believes programs that advance equity as well as improve education-related outcomes will lead to sustained individual and community prosperity.

Your gift to the Community Urgent Relief fund helps move Kalamazoo County toward our vision of a community in which all children enter school ready to learn, supported throughout their academic career and prepared to reach full potential. Make a gift today using the enclosed envelope or by visiting kalfound.org/give.

This article was featured in the latest issue of our UPDATE newsletter.
Read the full issue as a digital magazine.