Starks Academy After School Program Provides Homework Help, Place to Play During Pandemic

"Seal the Cracks" at the Encounter Youth Center features activities and games and help with schoolwork from tutors.

DULUTH, Minn.- As some elementary students across Duluth head back to the classrooms, some volunteers with the Northland Youth Basketball Alliance and Starks Academy are offering a place where kids of all ages can come to play, and get help with schoolwork.

It’s called “Seal The Cracks.”

For two hours after school at the Encounter Youth Center on First Street downtown, kids can come and play games or in the gym, get a snack they would’ve normally gotten in school, and get help with schoolwork from adult tutors and high schoolers from Duluth Marshall.

“I had no less than four parents on the first day tell me that this is the first time they’ve seen their kid smile,” Founder Dyami Starks said. “These kids were at home handling their work and they’re doing it all alone with no WiFi or no equipment no laptop and really no help.”

“We just want the kids to kind of break down those barriers, meet other kids, and just get what they’ve been missing in school,” he said.

Kids who use the program since it started a few weeks ago come from Duluth and Superior.

They say it’s nice to have a place they can get homework help in-person rather than on a screen, and be a kid again with friends.

“I think it’s really fun and school is a lot different this year so I think it’s really fun to do this with other kids and still have fun,” 7th Grader Bella Baker said. “We don’t get to do these kinds of things in school much and we still are being safe and also being able to have fun.”

Starks wants to expand the program, but to do that he says the two biggest obstacles are transportation for kids and funding. With many of the kids either learning at home or coming from afar, safe, social distanced transportation is harder to come by.

He says while a couple of local businesses have helped out, he is always looking for more donors or grants. You can reach out through the Northland Youth Basketball Alliance website, or through their Facebook or Instagram.

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