‘They need time to be kids’: Area non-profit First Tee works to fill gaps created by online schooling

MADISON, Wis. – The South-Central Wisconsin Branch of the First Tee Organization says it’s trying to fill the gaps for students dealing with online classes and isolation linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally designed as an after school program, the First Tee organization has since expanded to all day care at the East Madison Community Center. There, mentors help students walk through online courses, while still teaching life values through the game of golf.

“Structure is what kids need,” said Nate Savado, Director of Community Outreach for First Tee.

Savado says when the organization, which is normally based at a number of courses throughout the city, learned students would be online to begin the year, they knew they had to expand their reach to prevent students from falling through the cracks.

“A lot of our kids live in the nearby neighborhoods,” Savado said. “They do come from single family homes. They don’t have wifi.”

Students coming to first tee are provided the meals they normally would get at districts like MMSD, but have the opportunity to ask mentors for help should they need it.

“A challenge would just be seeing kids still struggle because they’re not getting their questions answered,” Savado said. “We always tell our kids you have to ask questions, but with a zoom, the kids raise their hands but the teachers might not see it. Then the kids get frustrated.”

“The time right now with COVID and these kids doing online learning is so difficult,” said Allyssa Ferrell, a former LPGA Golfer who now serves as First Tee’s Program and Outreach Coordinator.

Leaders of the organization say Dane County’s rules about how many people can be in an indoor setting puts a slight limit on how can children they can serve.

“We would love to be able to open this up for every kid around Madison, he said.  “But it just can’t happen. The laws right now don’t allow us to do that.”

Students who attend the daily programming First Tee provides say it makes a difference for them.

“My favorite part about being here is that you get to meet new friends,” said 9-year-old Antuan Haskins-Graves, who is a virtual 3rd grader at Isthmus Montessori Academy. “If people have kids and they want to bring their kids here, it will be really fun and I’d bet they’d make new friends,” he said.

Savado says the group is need of volunteers now more than ever.

“Get involved with first tee. Come in and see how the kids work in the learning center,” he said. “If you care, and a kid sees you care, you’ll be back. You’re guaranteed to be back. Because you’ll know that you’re making a difference in a young kid’s life.”

News 3 Now is a proud sponsor of First Tee and the organization’s Giving Tuesday initiative, Tee It Up Tuesday. Donations can be made online or by phone at 608-327-5514.