As we reach our 100th Homework Diner, here in March of 2018, just two years since we first put feet on the ground in local middle schools in this capacity, one reaction we continue to get is, “I didn’t know these were open to all families living in each school district. I thought they were only for the students and families in the schools they're held in.” In fact, during the past year, students from more than 40 schools in Buncombe County - elementary through high school - have attended the Homework Diners held in the four Asheville City and Buncombe County middle schools they operate within (Erwin, Enka, Asheville and just added this spring, Owen Middle).
“I am just so excited to find out about this brand new program to us, and feel that it’s just such a great gift not only to my family but to the entire community," shared Carolyn Craige, mother of twelve year-old Brendan Craige, on the second night of their attendance at the Enka Middle Homework Diner. Craige recently discovered Homework Diners as she scrolled through Facebook one evening and said she said she wasn't sure that these were open to everyone so she called to find out and was assured that they were in fact open to all families living in each respective school district. After her and her son's first successful night in attendance, Craige went on to share that information with their school at Franklin, letting them know that it was open to all students and that they were all welcome to attend for homework and mentoring help and to just be with other people in the community, share a meal and get to know one another better.
"I’m just so thankful to everyone here providing this wonderful service and being a part of the community in this way. My child is so excited to come now. It started from a place of reluctance and quickly moved to excitement to come and get help with his Algebra homework.” She laughs and tells me that having smart, older female college students from UNCA helping him on his first visit certainly helped. “So this is our second time here and I’m really appreciating the inter-generational aspects of this time we’re spending together with the college students and volunteers, young to old from all around the area. It's just a good feeling.”
I look over at Brendan as he pauses from his homework and ask if he minds walking down the hall and talking to me for a few minutes and he shakes his head no. We head out of the busy cafeteria and I ask him what he thinks about coming to these after school some days. “I didn’t like the tutoring experience I had at my old school,” Brendan shared with me, leaning back on a row of blue lockers in the hallway. “Here I have college students helping me learn how to solve algebraic equations though,” he whispered and and smirked shyly at me. I asked if he thinks he’ll come to a Homework Diner again and he smiled and shook his head up and down then ran back to the cafeteria.
As we make our way back inside, we're greeted by a table of science projects in progress with several small hands tinkering as they talk with Asheville Museum of Science representatives who brought them in to share with the students that evening. Just next to it, a table is filled with books with small notes that read "FREE" and "See Something You Like? Please Take It Home With You." A father and his two children sit just behind those rows of books working on an anatomy worksheet as they twirl the last of the noodles in the small white bowls from the dinner served that evening. The cafeteria is filled with conversation and laughter. One might not guess that this was a room of students, parents, teachers and mentors laughing over algebraic equations and worksheets on human anatomy, yet it is, and that is what a community school looks, sounds and feels like.
About Middle School Success
While every student faces challenges, those who live in poverty must navigate significantly more obstacles in order to make it to graduation. Every student that doesn’t graduate from high school faces a life filled with greater obstacles - impacting their long-term health and income and often determining whether or not they live in poverty the rest of their life. In Asheville and Buncombe County, 20% of low income students do not graduate from high school, and last year, more than 500 children in our public schools were homeless. When we provide middle school students ongoing encouragement and support during this critical time, we can stop them from falling through the cracks. But in many cases it isn’t enough to focus just on the student. Family and neighborhood issues like health, safety and employment directly impact academic achievement in youth as well. We use four key strategies in working toward our goals of ensuring every young person has access to equal opportunities and resources that enable them to reach their highest potential. Learn more about those strategies on our Middle School Success program overview page.