Making a Difference | The Joshua Group

In a school district with a 50% graduation rate, a local organization and its volunteers are making a difference with an after school program.

I caught up with the folks at the Joshua Learning Center to find out how they are improving the education of at-risk students with a fairly basic principle.

17-year-old Tahir Layton is a senior at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg and he says this about the Joshua Learning Center: “It's taught me how to be a better person, help me keep my grades up, it's great."

Layton is one of 145 students in the Harrisburg School District enrolled at the Joshua Learning Center.

For the past 20 years, the center, located in the Allison Hill neighborhood, has been providing students with better education opportunities.

"When the kids come in, they're going to spend a couple of extra hours every day for school work, which is a lot to ask, but that's what it takes, but they do," said Kirk Hallett the Director and Founder of Joshua Group.

Hallett founded the Joshua Group which oversees the learning center and the other "childhood to career" educational programs.

And with just that basic strategy (two hours of after school work, four days a week at the Joshua Learning Center) in exchange, the students get a scholarship to one of three private schools the Joshua Group partners with. They are Bishop McDevitt, St. Stephen’s Episcopal and Harrisburg Catholic Elementary.

It has made a tremendous difference in the lives of these kids who are from a school district with a deplorable graduation rate.

"7,000 kids go there or so and only half of them are going to graduate, whereas our graduation rate is 97%," said Hallett.

Hallett says the strategy is successful due in part to Joshua Group graduates - like 22 year old Anthony Dasent -- coming back to volunteer as tutors and mentors.

"They can see us as like we graduated through the program, went all the way through and graduated and now we're off in college or attending college, so they have something to look forward to because they know that the program works," said Dasent.

One 13-year-old has been attending the Joshua Learning Center since she was six: "In this environment, you're basically welcome no matter what race, how old and they just offer you a place to feel welcome at do your homework and get things done."

The Joshua Group also has a Pre-K program and some of the kids are funneled through the Head-Start program in Harrisburg.

Hallett says there's a waiting list of about 500 students for Head-Start and the Joshua Group was able to provide support for 50 of those preschoolers who were waiting for early childhood education support.

All of this success comes from one seemingly simple solution.

"There are ways to get out of this, but the only one I know Sherry, in the 20 years I've been here that is lasting, which is a gift forever and ever and education," said Hallett.

Tahir Layton wants to be a Diesel Mechanic, Janice Baldwin wants to be a Veterinarian and tutor Anthony Dasent wants to be an entrepreneur -- with businesses and organizations like the Joshua Group all over, but certainly in the Harrisburg area.

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