By Judith Stevens
Special to the New Journal and Guide
During COVID, Teaching Assistant Kathleen Barnett noticed a troubling trend at Tallwood Elementary School where she worked. Many children on the virtual learning track, with no face-to-face instruction, were falling behind through no fault of their own.
“I knew the kids I worked with were missing out,” she said.
Though unprepared for higher learning, many children were moved to the next grade, as social promotion was commonplace. So in March, 2021, Ms. Barnett did something about it. It began with a “cooler conversation” with other concerned teachers about what to do with the students who were falling behind. And that is how a small non-profit organization to tutor children one-on-one, “MySpace – MyPace,” was born.
“Our mission is to ensure equity for learners through proper PLACEMENT, PACING, and COLLABORATION,” Kathleen explained. “When a child is socially promoted and placed in a learning environment for which he or she is unprepared, they fall further behind and the pace of teaching is not considered for those students.”
She continued, “MySpace – MyPace customizes learning spaces and lesson plans for the individual child and paces the instruction, according to individual need. We remind the students that we are pacing, not racing, and this practice alone helps them relax and connect to the learning process in their own way. Collaboration with each child’s teacher and family supports overall learning and empowers their parents.”
Kathleen approached other concerned retired teachers to ask for their help.
“Every single person I asked said yes,” she said. “A former coworker in Richmond came and stayed for three weeks.”
Her church, Unity Renaissance of Chesapeake, partnered with the fledgling group and provided classroom space and a safe place for the learning to begin.
The first year MySpace – MyPace began with eight children and 12 instructors, eight of whom were retired educators. Each child had his or her own tutor. They also welcomed volunteers to assist with food service and transportation for student field trips.
In 2022, the program enlarged, accepting students from elementary and middle schools.
In 2023, I found a group of 16 lively inquiring minds whom I met when they visited our campus at the Association for Research & Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach on a field trip to implement a Mindfulness Component of their studies.
Seventeen children of varying ages, including a guest, a smiling young man using a walker – supervised by eight adult volunteers, including founding retired teachers, Beatrice Clendinen, Lucia Hinton, June Kates, Ella Maull, Kyle Parker-White, Kathleen Barnett and six Peer Teacher-Assistants –arrived at our one-block campus overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
We toured the Meditation Garden, the bamboo forest, walked the labyrinth, and showed the children the original vault that once housed the nearly 15,000 readings given by Edgar Cayce, called “the father of holistic medicine.”
A.R.E. staff members shared copies of the A.R.E.’s Children Magazine and taught the children to sign, “I love you.” They spent time arranging and balancing stones around our fountain. Kathleen says they are ready to return for story time in A.R.E.’s third floor Meditation Room with a view of the ocean, and a visit to our Yoga Studio.
“The staff at A.R.E. has encouraged and inspired us to continue this work with even greater motivation,” Kathleen says of her newfound friends.
“MySpace – MyPace has been sustained through donations from family and friends,” Kathleen adds. “We hope to inspire other communities to create similar programs that close learning gaps and bring greater awareness to the injustice of social promotion.”
Kathleen Barnett’s premise is that adult literacy does not begin in adults; it can be traced to what a child is given in the classroom. Her determination – and her volunteers’ determination – to ensure that African-American, Hispanic and children of all races are given the tools to succeed, is making a difference in our community. We owe her a debt of thanks.
For more information, to volunteer for the Program, donate to this homegrown non-profit, or to offer names of children you know who could benefit from this exemplary training, contact MySpace – MyPace founder, Kathleen Barnett, at (804) 647-8425 or email: Kidznkat45@yahoo.com.