The Learning Lamp offers services that many children need, but that are beyond their parents’ means. Tutoring, for instance, costs a fortune, and many parents simply cannot afford a tutor to help their children with schoolwork. If parents can’t provide their children with the tools to get ahead, how will the kids break the cycle of poverty? How will their children succeed in the classroom and in life?
The Learning Lamp is making sure that kids don’t miss out on what they need to do well in school. The nonprofit also provides trustworthy, enriching childcare, so parents can work, free of worry. That’s just a small taste on what’s on offer at The Learning Lamp, our latest small grant recipient.
We spoke with The Learning Lamp Grant Researcher/Writer Roxanne Tuinstra, to learn more about this work:
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about your demographic? Who are the children you serve?
Roxanne Tuinstra: The Learning Lamp is a nonprofit organization based in a small city in West Central Pennsylvania. The community is surrounded by a largely rural landscape. The children we serve live across five counties and benefit from a variety of supports including quality early learning programs, free after school programs, and one-to-one assistance during the school day. The contribution from Kars4Kids will support our free after school program, which is located in two public housing communities in Johnstown, PA.
Kars4Kids: Tell us a bit about Lorraine Nulton. What was it she saw that led to the founding of The Learning Lamp?
Roxanne Tuinstra: Lorraine Nulton is a school psychologist who identified a need for local children to receive help beyond what their parents could offer or afford to pay for. Her dream was for every child, no matter their family’s income or where they live, to have access to tutoring to keep them on track in school and help them graduate.
Kars4Kids: You’ve been in operation for over a decade now. How many children and others have you served since opening your doors, so to speak?
Roxanne Tuinstra: Right now, The Learning lamp serves 30,000+ children and families each year through school and community-based programs. We were much smaller when we were founded in 2003. I think it’s safe to say that we have served well over 100,000 children since our inception. In fact, some of those first students have now come back and are working with us!
Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of your tutoring program?
Roxanne Tuinstra: We deliver tutoring in a number of ways. This is intentional because we are trying to reach children where they are to eliminate any transportation barriers. We offer one-to-one tutoring at our main office in Johnstown. We also deliver tutoring in schools and community centers. We use certified teachers and the curriculum from students’ schools to ensure instruction matches what they are learning during the school day.
Kars4Kids: We liked what it says on the description of your childcare program: “Leaving a child to go to work shouldn’t leave a parent riddled with guilt.” What is it about your childcare programs that leaves parents feeling good as they drop off their children?
Roxanne Tuinstra: The Learning Lamp’s child care programs are top-notch. Caring and qualified teachers, an evidence-based curriculum, and a well-planned day full of activities ensure that children learn the skills they need to prepare for kindergarten and beyond.
Kars4Kids: Talk to us about your preschool program. We understand that some children qualify to attend your preschool programs free of charge? What, in your opinion, makes your preschool stand out from the rest?
Roxanne Tuinstra: Since 2004, The Learning Lamp has worked together with area schools to ensure little learners gain the academic, social, and emotional skills they need to prepare for kindergarten. Again, it’s the qualified and caring teachers alongside a carefully chosen curriculum and daily schedule that make the difference. Our organization is nationally accredited and holds the highest rating in Pennsylvania’s quality assurance system for early childhood.
Kars4Kids: Can you describe for us the SPARK curriculum you employ in your Before and After School programs?
Roxanne Tuinstra: The SPARK curriculum provides a framework for everyday movement, even when children can’t get outside to play. This is critical to gross motor development, health, and helping children have a healthy attitude about exercise. Plus, the activities are so much fun!
Kars4Kids: We would love to hear all about your Children’s Book Festival. (We figure that anything that makes kids read, has got to be terrific.)
Roxanne Tuinstra: This year’s children’s book festival is right around the corner. Our spotlight author is Eric Litwin of the Pete the Cat book series. Who doesn’t love Pete the Cat? (Google Pete if you haven’t heard of him. You’ll love him too!) The festival is free for families and every child takes home a free book. The Children’s Book Festival is the Johnstown area’s premier event for children. Between school visits and the festival, itself, more than 4,000 local children are able to interact with award-winning, New York Times best-selling authors and illustrators.
Kars4Kids: How did COVID affect your ability to operate, especially with so many locations and with the ever-changing pandemic school rules?
Roxanne Tuinstra: COVID. Oh my. Please tell us it’s almost over. Like most other services for children, we shut down from March through June of 2020. Over time, we have slowly reopened all programs, with plenty of safety measures in place. We’re still not back to where we were in terms of the numbers of children served. Amazingly, we were able to open two new child care centers and two new preschool programs during COVID. We are so proud of our staff for accomplishing that!
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Learning Lamp?
Roxanne Tuinstra: We are taking a hard look at the needs of children and families in the region we serve and developing a plan to better meet their needs. This includes expanded child care offerings in underserved communities and the introduction of a home visiting program focused on helping parents gain the skills and confidence to embrace their role as their child’s first teacher.