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St. Louis educators distribute free at-home learning kits for pre-K students

Colby Heckendorn, Genevieve Backer and their team have distributed more than a thousand kits for the youngest students in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — Amidst a year of virtual learning, two St. Louisans are working hard to make sure the city's youngest children don't fall behind.

Colby Heckendorn and Genevieve Backer recognized the need to help prekindergarten students when the pandemic hit and daycares closed.

“It was our youngest kids’ parents wanted to keep at home when the virus hit because we didn't know at that time how this was going to spread,” explained Kristine Terrance, an Atlas School teacher who works with Heckendorn and Backer.

Since spring 2020, Heckendorn and Backer have spearheaded an effort to distribute free at-home learning kits and facilitate virtual learning activities, like read-aloud sessions, for children.

Each at-home kit is filled with literacy activities, crafts, books and projects to improve motor skills. They have distributed more than 1,000 free kits for St. Louis children 3-6 years old.

“Families are so grateful they have these kits to supplement,” said Terrance. “Some kids will just get packets for learning, so having these authentic hands-on activities — parents are so appreciative.”

The kits keep children busy while many parents continue to work from home, while also teaching children something new.

Heckendorn, Backer and their team are providing these supplemental learning opportunities even as more schools open for in-person classes. Families interested in receiving a kit can find the latest distribution dates on Facebook.

Heckendorn and Backer are also working to open Atlas Public School, a tuition-free public school in the City of St. Louis for kindergarten and first grade students this August.

“They just really care that kids everywhere have access to good high quality education and that kids love to come to school,” said Terrance. “Atlas is going to change the face of education, I think. And I say that with the full confidence in Colby and Genevieve, because they have poured their heart and soul into this for the past two years.”