Reaching Hand is a nonprofit organization focused on bringing educational opportunities to children in India, while also supporting their development. Once a short-term volunteer and now a long-term coordinator, Niki Kraska has devoted the next year of her life, and maybe more, to developing the organizations first ever homeschool. Supporting more than a dozen students so far, she is eager to provide them with even more learning opportunities this year.
Learn More About Reaching Hand
We sat down with Niki to learn more about Reaching Hand and the homeschool program, here’s what she had to say:
How did you get connected with Reaching Hand?
In 2014, I met the founder of The One LoveMovement in San Diego and she invited me to join her on a volunteer trip in India. We came through the organization Leave Ur Mark, which connects international volunteers and interns to placements in South India. Leave UR Mark connected us with a few different organizations, and the one I connected with the most was Reaching Hand. I began helping in the office with fundraising and attending the children’s home to teach dance to the boys and girls. Very quickly I fell in love with spending time with the children at the home and began getting involved in their day-to-day routine (i.e. homework, meals, etc).
I left India knowing my work there wasn’t finished, so I quit my job in San Diego within five months and I have been traveling back and forth every since! This year I made a full-time commitment to the home; I started in March and will be here at least until next summer.
What makes Reaching Hand unique?
The people here have a genuine passion for what they are doing. Reaching Hand works in many different areas to help lift people out of their current situations. They support poor government (public) schools, offer skill-training for young adults in the city and women in rural areas, and teach young girls about menstruation and hygiene to keep them in school. If I could, I would work in all of their programs! But, I found my fit with New Home – the children’s home for 50 orphaned or abandoned boys and girl.
Over the past 3 years, the connection I’ve been able to make with them is incredible. I am able to offer something new to them as a foreigner, coming from a different culture and background, as well as offer as much love, laughter, and joy as I can. The great thing about New Home is that they truly try to give the children the absolute best they can. And the great thing about the children is that no matter what they may have been through in the past, they have shown me so much love and trust.
I know I have an opportunity here to really make an impact with them.
Tell us more about the New Home’s school program you’ve been working on.
This year is New Home’s first year of having a school directly at the Home! We recently purchased and moved to a new campus, to give the kids more stability and bring all the staff and children together as a family (previously we had two separate homes in rented facilities). With the move we also took in about 15 more young boys and girls – some had been to school before, some had not, and none of them spoke English. Our founder knew that they could fall through the cracks if we put them into mainstream English schools right away, so he decided we could provide them a quality education right here at home so we can ensure their success and their future.
Since I was coming back long-term at this same time, I was made coordinator of the Home school. Basically, I am creating a brand new school here! We call it School@Home since it’s a blend of classical classroom teaching and homeschool methodologies. I’m involved with the overall structure and development of the school, and I am the English teacher for class. I am both giving and receiving a lot right now through this opportunity.
How many students currently attend?
We currently have 19 students in our school – most of our newest children, plus the children that were still under grade 2 in most subjects. Our youngest student is just two years old, so we engage her in daycare/pre-school type activities while the other children are doing classwork. The rest of the kids range in age from four years to 10 years and range in grade level from kindergarten to second or third grade in each subject. With our current set-up, we teach ALL students a basic topic within a subject and then they break into their small group “classes” to continue learning/working at their skill level.
What is the biggest benefit of School@Home for your pupils?
A huge benefit of our school is being able to give each student individualized attention/direction based on their skill level. Even if they are in the same small group, we can tailor the classwork to fit the student’s needs. We have at least four teachers in the school at all times, so that each teacher is working with four to six students and meeting them at their level to raise them to the next.
Additionally, some students may be stronger in math than they are in language arts or reading, so in our school we are able to place them in the more advanced group for math, and in a lower-level group for reading to build their basic skills. Many students are pushed ahead in the school system without ensuring they have a solid foundation.
We are ensuring every single one of our students has a solid foundation to build their education from.
Why do you need additional support to make an even greater impact?
We just moved to an new campus, so much of our budget goes to the new building and we are working on paying off loans for the land. Because of that, not much money is available for the school just yet. Since School@Home is just starting out, we have many first and one –time needs.
For example, we don’t have tables for the kids to work on during classwork, so they sit on the floor in small circles, which isn’t conducive to a strong learning environment. We want the children to take school seriously and offer the best environment we can – and I see that we still have many unmet needs in order to do that. Tables would be a huge help for our classroom, in addition to class materials, printing costs, funding for field trips to enhance their learning, and workbooks for each student.
What are your hopes for the future?
Even more, our dream is to build actual classrooms on our campus. Right now we hold our school in one large study room. As we grow and take in more children at the home and in our school, it will be wonderful to give them an actual school with classrooms here to study.
We have been running the school for two months now, and every day I’m learning something new. I can’t wait to see where we stand after our six month mark…and especially after our first year!
To honor Niki’s hard work and sacrifice giving up her life at home to support Reaching Hand and students attending School@Home in India, we are honoring Reaching Hand as our July Nonprofit of the Month.