In the midst of a pandemic, four churches and a social justice coalition came together to achieve one goal — helping students. 

Heart-to-Heart Tutoring is an organization created by a group of volunteers from several Kirkwood churches. The program is currently in need of more volunteers to make it possible for the organization to keep helping students.

Tom Ptacek, a volunteer with Heart-to-Heart Tutoring and a member of Kirkwood United Methodist Church, said the program began in response to the achievement gap in Kirkwood public schools and the impact of COVID-19 on student learning. 

“During the pandemic, we were hearing more and more about the problems with the education gap, and how the kids who were already behind were falling further and further behind,” he said.

Ptacek said there had been a previous tutoring program based in Meacham Park prior to the pandemic which had ended. The idea for Heart-to-Heart Tutoring began in Kirkwood United Methodist’s racial justice ministry, but members soon reached out to other churches.

“This kind of all came out of the work we are doing as a part of our racial justice initiative,” he said. “As we were looking at the issues where we felt like we could make the biggest difference, this was the one that was most immediate and most necessary.”

During the pandemic, the program consisted of online tutoring via Zoom with four to five tutors working with six to 10 students. The group focused on helping low-income elementary and middle school students. 

“We felt like we helped those kids in a time where they really, really needed it,” he said.

But Ptacek said that members of Heart-to-Heart knew all along they wanted to provide  in-person tutoring at some point. 

Heart-to-Heart has worked with Kirkwood School District Superintendent David Ulrich and Shonda Ambers-Phillips, executive director of student services, with the goal of having an in-person tutoring program up and running by September. 

Tutors will be trained by the Kirkwood School District using the district’s new literacy curriculum to help underperforming children improve their reading ability. Additionally, the district will provide busing to the Lemmie Building in Meacham Park, where tutoring is planned to take place. For now, the program will focus on students in kindergarten through third grade.

Heart-to-Heart Tutoring is currently seeking volunteers. Volunteers will participate in Safe Gathering training (abuse-prevention education) and receive background checks. Those interested can call 314- 966-8167 ext. 133 or email Heart2Heart@kirkwoodumc.org

Kate Schreiber is an intern with the Webster-Kirkwood Times. She is a rising senior at Kirkwood High School, and is an editor-in-chief at the student newspaper, The Kirkwood Call.