It’s National Small Business Week — a time to celebrate all the independent sellers that make up the backbone of the American economy. Every day this week, we’ll be featuring Square sellers who work every day to make their communities better.
— Antonio French (@AntonioFrench) April 30, 2015
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French was one of the most outspoken figures in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of Michael Brown. He’s also the president and chief volunteer at North Campus, a wonderful community education program with the goal of “building a pipeline of success from birth to college.”
North Campus derives inspiration from programs like the much-lauded Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. It’s founded on the principle that education and an enriching childhood experience help lift families out of poverty. “What happens after school and on the weekends can be just as powerful as what’s happening or not happening in the classroom,” says French.
North Campus is growing rapidly. What started as a summer program with 30 kids three years ago has expanded into a year-round, daily program with over 150 students. And with the help of a recent grant, French says the goal is to have 300 kids in North Campus by the end of the year. The program offers regular tutoring and also a number of enrichment classes like Constitution Club/Street Law, Creative Writing, and Mad Scientist. There’s also a number of recreational activities, like swimming, yoga, and tennis, as well as campus security to keep the children safe.
But perhaps the most innovative part of the program is how it motivates kids and their families to participate. “Kids aren’t necessarily excited by an additional four hours of school every day,” says French. “So we want to make it fun and worth their time.” Toward that end, North Campus is rolling out gift cards from Square that kids can earn by attending the program. The gift cards are redeemable at North Campus’ store, which sells things like food and household items for adults. The idea is to give low-income families an incentive to encourage their kids to attend the program. “Financial situations are one of the main factors that draw kids out of school,” says French. “They need to start earning for the family. If a kid attending this program can help pay the electric bill at home, it creates an incentive for the mom to make sure the kid is in the program.”
Here’s our FaceTime interview with French: