By Lisa Rozner

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A church and a charter school in New Jersey are teaming up to close the learning gap widened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tutoring is often an expensive way to help students, but this year they’re launching a free program for certain grades district wide, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Wednesday.

Upon learning that due to the pandemic very few Newark students would pass state exams, Pastor Dr. David Jefferson had a vision:

“This has to be now us extending the learning day. This has to be about us now extending the weekends,” Jefferson said back in early July.

And now he’s making it a reality, setting up a tutoring center inside the Metropolitan Baptist Church that will welcome all ninth and 10th graders city wide every Saturday.

“The Black church has always been on the leading edge of addressing crises back into the homes of families,” Jefferson said.

The focus will be on reading and algebra.

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The website Tutors.com says the average cost in the area for a math tutor is $25 to $80 per hour, but for this program tutors will be provided by the Great Oaks Legacy Charter School for free.

“It is not just for individuals of the charter school. This is for the public school system and any kid, any family, that wants to take advantage of this,” Jefferson said.

“Every week, the same tutor meets with the same student. They start to get to know their tendencies. They start to learn where their gaps are,” said Jared Taillefer, executive director of Great Oaks Legacy Charter School.

It’s called “high dosage” tutoring, and has been utilized by Great Oaks for the last decade.

For four to six hours a week tutors like Destiny McFarland will teach concepts that may have gotten lost during the lockdown, in addition to homework help.

“Some students, they may be behind grade level, so it’s important for us to meet them where they’re at,” McFarland said.

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It worked for Branden Brison, who came to Great Oaks in the sixth grade and now as a 12th grader is looking at universities like Harvard.

His mom said she helped with homework, but accessibility to tutors up-to-date with the content was incomparable.

“The tutors also show compassion. It keeps them engaged academically,” Sabrina Brison said.

And during these tutoring sessions the school will also supply snacks, school supplies and security, Rozner reported.

“We’re going all in and we have a passion to really, really make it work,” Jefferson said. “If we close the learning gap, we can also close the wealth gap. It’s going to impact violence. It’s going to impact crime.”

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A Newark Schools spokesperson claims the district has been providing tutoring at all schools since the start of the pandemic, yet is grateful for this effort.

Jefferson said the program is a response to an outcry from city parents, and now their prayers have been answered.

The program is first-come, first-serve, but organizers said they do not anticipate having to turn anyone away.