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The Space Offers Help for Students
Tuesday, January 4, 2022


The room in Hailey’s Meriwether Building is filled with intriguing games, such as Moon Landing, Quicktionary, Math for Love Prime Climb, Scrabble, Code.Game, Dominoes and Gravity Maze where players create a path for their marble to reach its target.

Accompanying the games are such books as “How to Be a Math Genius,” “Poetry for Neanderthals” and “Yo No Soy Tu Perfecta Hija Mexicana.”

They’re part of The Space, a place set aside to offer academic support and college counseling for students in grades 6 through 12.

The nonprofit organization provides individual tutoring in all academic subjects, help for those preparing to take their GED, SAT or ACT and counseling for those writing college essays or seeking financial aid for college.

“It’s a literal space to come to hang out and get help with homework,” said Tamar Dolgen, interim executive director. “We’re here for the community. We’re a new organization filling a gap that has not been served before.”

The Space, founded by educators Naomi Runkel and Kate Ristow, opened at the Community Campus in January 2020 and was quickly shut down by the COVID pandemic. It pivoted to go virtual for a year and then opened in person in July 2021 in the Meriwether Building.

“Everybody who thinks they’re not worth it, everybody who wants to be something—we want them to know with us they can,” said Leo Padilla, who grew up in Peru, joined the team as a bilingual math and Spanish tutor and has been quick to enchant students with his talents as an artist, dancer and Zumba guru. “Everybody who thinks they’re not capable of achieving something, we want them to know they can.”

Typically, the youngsters start by writing short essays in a journal to such questions as “What are you good at?” and “How do you deal with kids who bug you?”

They don’t realize it, said Runkel, but, as they share their thoughts, they’re building relationships and learning.

The games develop strategic thinking and mathematical and vocabulary prowess.

“We just added a vocabulary game because we saw the need for it,” Runkel said. “And Bananagrams challenges the students to rearrange letters to create new words.

“These games show the kids that learning can be fun. We recognize that education is not a single pathway but that there are many pathways that can help.”

Typically, The Space has about 10 students at a time with a maximum of three students assigned to one adult. Services are offered on a drop-on basis to make it easy for students who have afterschool jobs.

 Some are recommended to The Space by a school social worker; others bring friends with them. They get to munch on snacks provided by The Space and hang out with friends while learning in a less stressful, perhaps more fun manner, than they’re exposed to at school.

One student who had been having trouble in school, at home and socially was referred to the program by a school counselor at the middle school. The student began coming reluctantly. But. within a few weeks, the student started showing up nearly every day, completing homework and academic goals without prompting and sometimes bringing friends.

“Now this student feels at home at The Space, sharing concerns, asking for help and making plans for the future,” said Ristow. “This student embodies our mission to give young people the space to become students on their own terms.”

“Kids need space to think about things and have time not to be busy to think and breathe and decide about their future,” added Runkel. “Students may come in for one thing like algebra, and end up wanting help with other subjects.”

Students pay for The Space’s services as they’re able. More than half the children receive free tutoring, thanks to donations from individuals, foundations and organizations, such as 100 Men Who Care.

To date, The Space has served more than a hundred Wood River Valley students.

Runkel continues to hear from some who have graduated.

“Kids call from college and ask me for help with an essay they’re freaking out over. Or, they ask me to read an essay they’re writing for a job. One even used our office to finish a philosophy paper,” she said. “We try to have a relationship with those who come to us for help. I believe that one of most important parts of teaching is the relationship between the student and teacher.”

The Space is located at 111 North 1st Ave., Suite 2C, above Java in Hailey.

Want to know more? Visit, write or call 208-450-3750. Donations to the 501©3 nonprofit organization are tax-deductible and can be sent to The Space Idaho Inc. at 403 North 1st Avenue, Hailey, ID 83333.


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