In less than three months, a partnership involving churches, college students, community members, educators and families has started paying dividends at Lanier Elementary.
Staff and volunteers have created the LIFT (Let’s Inspire Families Together) program to empower families and provide them with the resources and skills to complete classwork with their children. The first 12-week session will end prior to winter break, and the second will start after the break.
“We know that sometimes students aren’t doing their homework at home, because their parents can’t help them,” said Maryville College junior Sarah Husi, who collaborated with Title I teacher Paula King to create the program. “They don’t do their homework, then they start to fall behind. They eventually fall too far behind, because they don’t have the reading skills to keep up with their peers. We believe this program and its emphasis on adult education is the key to addressing those needs.”
Staff initially identified families that could benefit from the program, King said. “We tried to keep it small, because it was both manageable and provided us with the opportunity to have a tremendous impact. Our initial goal was 12 students, or two families per grade. We ended up with 11 families.”
While a total of 50 volunteers are working with families, staff don’t plan to grow anytime soon. “We don’t want to grow too fast. We want to be of value to the families and students we serve.”
Families spend the first 30 minutes eating and entering into fellowship with each other. Husi mentors and tutors parents for the following 30 minutes, offering an overview of reading and promoting reading comprehension. Families and volunteers complete a classroom task together in the final hour.
One task involved an assignment based upon a fluency strategy, known as “scooping.” Parents, students and tutors chunked texts into phrase units and read phrases while “scooping” each one with a finger or pencil, showing them how to read it.
Venture starts at college fair
The pair said they never would have imagined organizing such a venture when they met last school year.
Husi first met King at the Opportunities of a Lifetime Fair, which was held last fall on the college’s campus. The annual event introduces current students to extracurricular activities and organizations that match up with their interests and experiences.
The junior, who is majoring in elementary education and transferred to MC last year, was looking for opportunities to become involved in the community. “I wanted to be in a school and work with students.”
Since that time, Husi has served Lanier Elementary in a number of capacities, including instructional assistant and tutoring. She has worked with both individual students and small groups.
Husi, who was volunteering nearly 10 hours per week at the elementary school, was encouraged by her roommate to apply for the Bradford Scholarship, named for former Daily Times Publisher Tutt Bradford. The scholarship, which seeks to serve Blount County in the area of adult literacy, is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors.
She was initially “hesitant” about applying for the scholarship. “I didn’t think I’d get it, but she convinced me to do it.”
Everything started to fall into place several months later.
In mid-May, King had a preliminary conversation with the Rev. Dr. Emily Anderson, New Providence Presbyterian Church’s pastor, about the possibility of adopting a school. Anderson asked about an adopter’s role and sought to learn about the community to determine if the congregation and school would be a good fit.
Husi learned about the same time that she’d been awarded the Bradford Scholarship. She later met with the Rev. Dr. Anne McKee, who oversees Maryville College’s Center for Campus Ministry, about the LIFT program.
In the past, Bradford scholars — who are required to perform six hours of service each week in the area of adult literacy — have read to seniors, taught English as a Second Language (ESL) students, tutored Blount County Justice Center inmates and worked with Blount County Adult Education students. Husi was asking to complete something different, but McKee gave her blessing to LIFT.
In addition to college staff and students, two local churches have also blessed it. Both New Providence Presbyterian Church and Maryville First United Methodist Church bus food from Welcome Table ministries on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
Lanier Elementary plans to continue offering the program next semester, King said. “Many families have expressed a sincere interest in coming back next semester. They’ve also expressed a desire to mentor and partner with new families. While the program wasn’t designed to be parents mentoring parents, it’s evolved into the ideal teaching-learning framework. We expect great things in the future due to this program.”
By Matthew Stewart-The Daily Times