Andrew Van Treeck

Homework help for refugee students

“There’s no better way to give back than by supporting our community’s children.”

The Champions of Learning Awards are a collaboration between the Consortium for Public Education and United Way’s Be There Campaign, that recognize adults in western Pennsylvania who go above and beyond to create opportunities and motivate students to meet their greatest potential. United Way’s Be There initiative promotes excellent school attendance to students so they will have greater success in school and more opportunities following graduation. Andrew Van Treeck was the winner of the Provider category at the Champions of Learning Event for going above and beyond for local kids in his role at Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS).

Andrew grew up in a home where compassion and caring for others was more important than anything. He recalls how his mom volunteered for everything she could and made sure to bring him along. Years later those skills would come full circle when Compass AmeriCorps placed Andrew as volunteer coordinator and refugee caseworker at JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services. After his year of service with AmeriCorps, Andrew joined the JFCS team full-time as Volunteer Coordinator and never looked back.

As a refugee resettlement agency, JFCS is the first point of contact for a family arriving in the United States and can assess what supports they will need. Andrew soon discovered that very specific additional supports would be needed to help refugee youth succeed.

“We heard from parents who could see that their kids were struggling but didn’t know how to help,” Andrew said. “Many refugee parents are preliterate. If they can’t read the homework, how can they help their child succeed in American schools?”

Due to the lengthy resettlement process, many kids are born in the camps, and all of them can miss years of education. When they enter the U.S. school system, these children are placed in the grade that correlates with their age, not learning level. This, paired with teachers who aren’t equipped with the tools to help, creates a dangerous opportunity to fall further behind.

Existing programs didn’t serve this refugee community’s academic needs. So, Andrew decided to create an after school program. He connected with the Alliance for Refugee Youth Support and Education (ARYSE), and together, they formed After School Club.

Twice a week, 75 students attend After School Club, a partnership with JFCS and ARYSE. These sessions are led by volunteer mentors who work with students one-on-one to complete homework assignments, have fun, and provide additional support where it’s needed most.

“Since the program launched last year, we’ve grown from 20 to 80 dedicated, caring volunteers,” Andrew said.

For his service to the children in our community, United Way is proud to honor Andrew as a Champions of Learning “Be There” Awards winner. To learn more, visit https://uwswpa.org/be-there.

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