Portland, OR. The KairosPDX educational nonprofit is individualizing its programming to serve kids at home. The program serves over 170 students in grades K-5. The focus of the nonprofit is working to transform education into a system that sees and nurtures the whole child. Through policy advocacy and direct service, the organization works to change a structure that has historically disempowered black and brown communities.

The nonprofit’s holistic approach has helped it weather the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to retain the same attendance levels that we had pre-pandemic and it was largely because we centered care and connection in everything that we did,” Ladd said. “Multiple times a week there were check-ins with families, and it was really just a space for families to come together and vent and ask questions and be in a safe space to experience what we were experiencing as a collective.” 

Kairos focuses on the whole child and all their needs: academic, social, emotional, cultural, and more.

Similar check-ins were available to kids individually. Kairos was able to provide nutritional support, computers that had been donated, and Internet access so that each child could stay healthy and focused on learning. 

Kairos prioritizes the “whole child,” in the classroom, including social, emotional, cultural, and identity-affirming aspects of wellbeing. The organization has done training with educators as well as people outside the educational system to work on how to better support whole kids. 

“We talk a lot about the humanization of children being at the center of education,” Ladd said. “Seeing the humanity in each child means seeing all that they bring and seeing that as an asset. Schools have a tendency to dehumanize children and their value.” 

Kids need this type of support more than ever amidst the rapid social changes occurring right now. 

“With both the racial justice and COVID pandemics, for many it’s like a trauma in the sense that it’s thrown people’s lives into chaos and everything that they knew is no longer,” Ladd said. “That is a traumatic event that will have an impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.” 

Creative projects support academic engagement

The executive director said that this turbulent time has provided some opportunity for the community to come together around important issues. Kairos partnered with some other black-run organizations and faith-based communities to do a food distribution. The organization also partnered to offer free COVID testing for the surrounding community. 

“I found in this time, while there were challenges, our community did what it often does, which is come together to support one another,” Ladd said. “It wasn’t about who runs what organization, it was about how we support the children and families that we serve and this greater community and how we utilize each other’s strength to better support them.”   

This is also an opportune time in terms of racial justice. Kairos is working with other black-run organizations across all sectors to lobby members of government for policy changes. Ladd said that with the awareness raised by protests in Portland, policymakers are more open to legislation advocating for racial equity. 

Kids need support in academics now more than ever.

“Obviously our work is very much in the heart of racial justice and economic justice … the work is not new work for us, but I think the new global and statewide attention has definitely created more work,” Ladd said. “I think this is a period of time to continue to lift up the voices of leaders in the black community and other communities of color. ” 

These leaders are working hard to lobby as a collective, run their individual organizations, and care for their own homes and families. Ladd said her biggest challenge right now is that there is not enough time in the day. 

“It’s been a lot of extra work, a lot of late-night zooms,” she said. “There’s so many important things to do. And it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but still, you gotta keep running.” 

From KairosPDX: KairosPDX is an education nonprofit focused on transforming education through a model built on love and inclusion that elevates the voices of historically underserved children, their families, and their communities. ‘Kairos’ is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment), or a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens.