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Education Alumna opens nonprofit academy for virtual learning in memory of brother

Kim in center with students
Photo by Jill Blue from Viera Voice.

When COVID-19 came to the U.S., Kim (Falcone) Coluccio ’95 created a facility designed to help students return to school during the new normal: the Matthew Erik Academy, named in memory of her brother. Coluccio opened the nonprofit center for students so they would have a place to conduct virtual learning while also benefiting from other educational opportunities.

“A lot of parents either can’t be home with the kids because they’re working full-time or they’re struggling helping their kids because they’re not familiar with the curriculum,” she says. “We’re offering a place for these kids to come during the day and work on their schoolwork. I’m here and I’m a certified teacher so I can help them if they need help with their assignments.”

The Inspiration

The Matthew Erik Academy, in Suntree, Florida, is part of the Matthew Erik Foundation, founded five years ago by Coluccio in memory of her brother, who was also a teacher. “From what I hear, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of his former students, he was just a great teacher, a lot of fun, really got close to his students, made them laugh, made learning fun, and sadly he passed away at the age of 39. He only got to teach 10 years down here,” she says. He passed due to a brain illness.

Wanting to keep his memory alive, she created the nonprofit foundation and academy while also working full-time teaching at a local college in Florida. She wanted to “turn his death into something positive.”

“I remember my brother was always just so fun,” says Coluccio. “Loved to laugh, loved to make light of things…” Anyone who knew him adopted the phrase, “be a little more Matt,” meaning to be more like him. And the academy mirrors that notion. “We love learning at the Matthew Erik Academy. It is a fun place to be. It’s more than a place to do your schoolwork. We really try to connect with the students here and have some fun between those lessons. They’re not just in front of a computer the entire time. We play games. I try to teach them soft skills (such as stress and time management and organization skills, etc.) in addition to the curriculum they’re learning.”

“I owe a lot of what I’m doing to York College”

As a student at York College, Coluccio pursued a degree in Education. She made the connections and developed the skills that would lead her to where she is today. “I owe a lot of what I’m doing to York College,” she says. “It really was such an amazing experience for me to be a student there. I’ll still tell people it was the best four years of my life.”

It was the affordable, personable, and small campus that allowed her to get the most of her education. She always knew she wanted to be a teacher and YCP is known for its education program. While a student, she was a work study for the Education Department where she became much closer with the faculty. She still stays in contact with Dr. Brian Glandon, who was the Chair of the Education Department at the time, as well as Zehao “ZZ” Zhou, Assistant Professor and Information Services Librarian, whom she grew close to when she worked in the Schmidt Library as a work study. “It was a great environment in which to learn.” 

Looking to the Future

Looking ahead, Coluccio plans to expand upon the Matthew Erik Foundation by opening another learning center in a low-income area and provide services for free. “We’re hoping through fundraising and grant opportunities that we’ve been applying for that we’ll be able to run without charging tuition.”

While the current center does charge tuition for its services as many of the staff volunteer, Coluccio hopes to make the academy a service that would be available to all families who need it regardless of their ability to afford it. “I would like to offer our services to families who can’t afford it. Maybe families that want to keep their kids at home from school and have them do e-learning, but they have to work and they can’t afford to send them to a place like ours,” says Coluccio.