The Salvation Army’s West Philadelphia Corps Community Center is known for its robust 21st Century Learning Zone – an after-school program, which provides young people with a safe, caring and educational environment. Every weekday afternoon the building is buzzing with students’ energy and excitement – from the digital learning program to puppetry class.
“It’s my privilege to touch the lives of hundreds of students in the course of being here,” said Dr. Michael Koku, known as Dr. Mike to his students and colleagues.
Dr. Mike has headed up the 21st Center Learning Zone at the West Philadelphia Corps for the last nine years. He is considered a pioneer for the program. Always thinking of his students and their overall learning experience, Dr. Mike established valuable partnerships with organizations such as PECO, Drexel University and Target.
West Philly’s Digital Learning Program, in partnership with Target and leading educational technology company, EverFi, offers engaging, dynamic and interactive online content to students in the corps’ computer lab. The program includes eight different courses for children from K through 12. Subjects include health and wellness, social and emotional learning, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). All learning courses contain guided activities, interactive gaming simulations, and content with real-world applications.
“We wanted to provide youth programs to prepare students for life,” said Jamie Grivas, Schools Manager with Everfi. Jamie works closely with The Salvation Army Corps Community Centers in Southeast Pennsylvania and Delaware that offer the Digital Learning Program to afterschool students. “The students at the West Philadelphia Corps are always enthusiastic and I do think that’s in large part to Dr. Koku and the work he does. The kids really seem to love him,” she added.
Volunteers also play an integral role at West Philly’s 21st Center Learning Zone. The partnerships Dr. Mike has established in the community have resulted in a team of volunteers who donate their time and talents on a weekly basis.
“I think it’s awesome to be there,” said Julia Verone, a chemical engineering student in her senior year at Drexel University. “We tutor the kids with their homework for about an hour, and we go to the gym with them and play basketball or football.”
16-year old Tiana Wolfford used to be a student in the afterschool program herself. Now she is there as a volunteer tutor. “This is about helping the kids to learn and helping them to get better at their work,” she said.
Dr. Mike was honored with The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia’s Ray Welsh Memorial Employee of the Year Award in May 2018 in recognition of the program’s growth and success, and his dedication to the students.
“My reward is not the income but the outcome. We see changes, we see transformation,” said Dr. Mike. “I’ve seen children who could have gone the wrong way in life, and we have been able to change the course of their destiny.”