Kassi afterschool program works to produce leaders

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Several studies have identified that the time after school is when teenagers are most likely to get involved in negative activity, but the Kassi Leadership Academy in the Hill District is using that time to turn young Blacks into leaders, thus preventing juvenile delinquency.

Kassi is a free afterschool program based out of the Hill House Association for middle and high school students to broaden their scope of possibilities for the future and to develop them into young leaders for their homes, schools and communities.

WordUp
WORD UP—Students and staff of the Kassi Leadership Academy in the Hill District stand together after the Words of Steel Freestyle Movement on May 27 at the Kaufmann Center, where students of the program performed. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“Three to 6 p.m. is the time when youths under 18 are most likely to get in trouble,” said Tamica Mickle, director of Kassi. “We provide a safe place for them to come (during those critical times).” She continued to say that Kassi is a voluntary program and she knows children at that age have other options, but by coming to the program, kids are choosing to not get in trouble and to be productive.

Kassi is going into its third year of operation and was initially modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. It was developed to integrate the University Prep at Milliones, a school in the Hill District for grades 6-12, into the community. But it has grown and now has students from Brashear and Schenley. The program is free through grant funding, is open to students from all over Pittsburgh and offers academic, cultural and recreational components to students. There is tutoring, mentoring, SAT preparation, credit recovery—where students can make up school course credits, and more. Along with the academics, there are various clubs, such as dance, cooking, art, debate, chess, a partnership with Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. and more.

“We try to encompass academic components within all our clubs. For example, in the cooking club we show them how to measure,” said Nathaniel Darwin, program coordinator of Kassi. “With the debate club we teach them how to properly debate, not just yell and argue to get their point across.” He added that the things they are learning are things that can be taken and used within the “real world.”

Through the partnership with Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., students wrote and produced a CD, which they have performed locally.

And through a partnership with Tickets For Kids, students have been able to go to the opera, the zoo and other activities. “It broadens their horizons and a great opportunity to see beyond their communities,” said Mickle. Although she and Darwin both said they would like to see more partnerships from the community.

Along with their youth participants, the program seems to have steady participation from parents. They hold monthly meetings for parents to learn what their children are doing for the month. There have also been financial literacy seminars for parents.

According to Darwin, there are approximately 120 students enrolled in the program, and 20-25 students who attend daily. Students typically attend from 3:45-7:45 p.m.

While Kassi is helping students academically, it is also helping the community in violence prevention. It has been shown that when young people have things to do, they are less likely to engage in negative activity.

“The Hill District has a high crime rate and a lot of the young lives being lost, the students know. We let them know they have a safe place to come to and that they do not have to worry about what they have on or what they look like. We teach respect,” Mickle said,

“We make sure the students see where they fit in within the community, teach them that everything they learn in school is useful and how to apply it to everyday life,” Darwin said. “But also once they see their purpose in the community, they learn that there are other options than the negative things they might see in other places.”

Darwin said that the budget cuts in government funding will affect them, but did not go into details.

Both Mickle and Darwin agree that their hopes for the program’s future is that it continues to grow and be successful and that they look forward to getting more community involvement.

“It’s hard to make a high school student come (to an afterschool program), but we hope that with what our program has to offer, it continues to attract them,” Darwin said.

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