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Pandemic brought ‘opportunities for creativity and growth and inclusion’

Plainfield-based After the Peanut offering online tutoring in new partnership

The After the Peanut website said its mission “focuses on the power of knowledge and education in the face of adversity and challenges.”

And 2020 certainly brought plenty of those, its founder Natalie Coleman of Plainfield, feels.

“But it’s also allowed opportunities for creativity and growth and inclusion,” Coleman said.

That’s why Coleman, a military veteran, member of the Will County Board (D-Plainfield) and longtime educator, is excited about After the Peanut’s new partnership with Aetna Better Health of Illinois.

After the Peanut will provide tutoring vouchers for online tutoring and homework help to qualifying health plan members in grades K-12 across the state of Illinois.

Coleman said the partnership is just one more opportunity for students, some of whom are struggling with remote learning, to have additional human connection, reinforcement of concepts and ability to ask questions.

In short, Coleman feels online tutoring and homework help is another way to close any educational gaps in the child’s learning, especially in light of the challenges COVID-19 has caused in the learning process.

Not all students, Coleman feels, are suited to independent learning, even though parents and teachers are helping to guide the leaning.

“Maybe they’re struggling with a math concepts or they don’t know subject-verb agreement,” Coleman said. “Whatever their trouble spots are, we’re going to be providing tutoring.”

After the Peanut’s online tutoring will also give “a sense of social and emotional check-ins,” Coleman said.

“We’ll talk about their career interests and what’s going in in the schools and where they’re struggling in academics,” Coleman said.

Coleman started After the Peanut in 2014, and it has two distinct components: it’s a business and it’s a nonprofit. The inspiration After the Peanut was George Washington Carver, an African American agricultural scientist and inventor.

As a business, After the Peanut provides tutoring and curriculum and program development, particularly for what Coleman calls “science hardware companies.”

“Say a company has a product that they want to be in the school, but they don’t have lesson plans to go with it,” Coleman said. “My company creates the lesson plans.”

As a foundation, After the Peanut foundation is able to offer programs, especially in the areas of financial literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), to students who may not have access to them otherwise, Coleman said. Donations and grants pay for the programming.

Why STEM?

Well, Coleman is also an adjunct chemistry teacher at the University of St. Francis in Joliet and the former district administrator for social studies and science at Joliet Public Schools District 86 in Joliet.

And she is passionate about STEM and creating a similar passion in students.

STEM is more than just robotics and coding, Coleman said. STEM is also about learning to work well in groups, about learning how to communicate and collaborate, skills students will need one day in the workplace, she added.

“Kids in kindergarten through fifth grade: they’re always excited about science,” Coleman said. “But we have to keep kids interested in it in middle school. By high school, either they like it [science] or not.”

Coleman likes to stress the innovation of STEM and their roles in it. Instead of playing video games, kids could make their own, she said. They could make low-cost prosthetics with 3D printers for people who need them.

“For them, the next generation, they’re going to be the ones with the flying cars and drones that deliver things to your door,” Coleman said.

In 2018, After the Peanut obtained a “bricks and mortar” presence at the Fairmont Community Center in Lockport, Coleman said. There, After the Peanut had provided a free afterschool program to students twice a week. Parents were responsible for transportation, she said.

Down the road, Coleman would also like to expose students to food science, a bit of a throwback to After the Peanut’s namesake. George Washington Carver was known for his experiments and expertise with plants.

For instance, students could learn the science behind growing seasonal fruits and vegetables year-round by adapting plants’ indoor environment to support their growth.

They could learn that a greater variety of food choices may lead to a healthier lifestyle, which can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, Coleman said, especially for at-risk populations.

“While it might not prevent someone from getting COVID,” she said, “it might given them a better chance at fighting something off.”

Members of Aetna Better Health of Illinois can receive more information about the online tutoring service by calling Aetna at 1-866-329-4701.

For more information about After the Peanut, visit afterthepeanut.com.