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'We're losing our youth day by day, minute by minute' | Youth mentor starts low-cost learning pod

The remote learning site is geared toward families who can’t afford fancy tutors, private pods or the price tag of private schools.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the middle of the school day, 15 children sit in spaced out seats at a Northwest Charlotte church’s recreation room, headphones on, iPads out, pencils at the ready.

The remote learning site is geared toward families who can’t afford fancy tutors, private pods or the price tag of private schools. It’s the only learning pod of its kind within a three-zip code area. And it began with a simple question asked by its founder Ashley Titus: “How can I help these families?”

Titus is a youth mentor in Charlotte.

“Anything for the kids, I’m all in,” she said with a smile.

When COVID hit and schools shut down, many of the people she knew were essential workers who could not stay home.

“You should never have to choose between your job and your child’s education,” Titus said. “Both of those are essential to the economic mobility of your family.”

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Over the course of several months, Titus began planning and establishing her learning pod. The pod, an official CMS partner remote learning site. It’s the only full-time, five days a week partner accepting students of all ages in the area.

“The price is income-based,” Titus said. Some families don’t pay anything; the most a family is paying is $20 per day.

“The door keeps swinging, it’s a revolving door,” she said. “The phone does not stop ringing.”

At her learning site, children receive hands-on help with all synchronous and asynchronous assignments.

“They can ensure that the kid is going to be engaged and attend every single class,” Titus said. “I tell the kids your job is your education, mommy and daddy’s job is to go to work every day.”

The students also receive breakfast and lunch through the CMS meal program, and enrichment and outdoor playtime.

“We try to make sure that the kid does not go home with any homework,” she said. “That is a huge relief for the families and creates that work-life balance.”

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Titus said there is a huge need for more programs like hers in her part of town; social workers call the site daily with referrals for more students in need of a safe place to learn with oversight.

She said her ability to serve more children is hampered by several factors—the biggest one, money.

“Funding is an issue,” Titus said. “What can we do in order to get funding so that we can provide the necessary resources for our children to grow?”

Resources would help with one of the other challenges the families are facing: transportation. Many of the families do not have a way to get their children to the learning site each day.

Titus is hoping to find a grassroots organization or a transportation company that would be willing to bring the children to and from the site in the morning and afternoon.

“There’s just not enough people that are willing to work together,” she said.

Titus said it is also hard for a small organization like hers to catch the attention of the federal and state leaders holding the purse strings. The result? Financial support is not coming in. 

Titus said, rather than waiting for funding from the government, she believes grassroots organizations should stand in the gap, and be the ones that serve as “the village” for the children in the community.

“It’s time,” she said. “We’re losing our youth day by day, minute by minute.”

When CMS makes its eventual return to full-time in-person instruction, Titus said she hopes her program will serve as a before and after school learning and mentoring site. She also plans to offer a summer enrichment program this year.

“I know there is a lot that I can do,” she said.

For now, Titus remains focused on the task at hand each day, her reason why she began this mission in the first place: making sure every child who walks through her door is educated, encouraged and edified.

“We’re all adjusting,” she said. “We do not have it all figured out, but we have to work with what we’ve got.”

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