Strawberry fields forever? Not for these kids

Nancy Plate works with a student at Dover Elementary School. Photos from St. Andrew's UMC, Brandon.

BRANDON – Nancy Plate is a longtime lay member of The United Methodist Church, currently dedicating her talents to coordinating a literacy ministry at St. Andrew’s UMC. The ministry was among United Methodist church-and-school partnerships featured this month in Interpreter magazine. Here’s how it all got started:

Did you grow up in the Methodist Church?

When I was young, I never went to church because my family didn’t go. But I started going by myself, riding on the bus to the Church of God that my uncle attended. At the age of 10, I received the Lord and, from that point on, I went to a Methodist church. I always felt this was something I needed in my life. 

When did you begin attending St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church?

My husband, Gary, was in the military. I was always active in churches near where we were based, singing in the choir and getting involved in different ministries. When he was assigned to MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa), we began attending Seffner United Methodist Church, where we were members for 22 years. Then we switched to St. Andrew’s 15 years ago.

Group of Dover Elementary students holding a "thank you St. Andrews" banner

St. Andrew's UMC, a church 10 miles away from the strawberry fields surrounding Dover Elementary, has "adopted" the school, which has a student body made up largely of children of migrant farmworkers.

Why did you decide to start the tutoring ministry at Dover Elementary School?

Eight years ago, I was doing some reading and tutoring at a migrant farm camp, and became aware of the great need for tutors for the children of migrant farmworkers. Most of their parents don’t speak English and, since they are traveling with their parents many months out of the year, they are often behind other students in reading skills. So I recruited some other members of the church to provide tutoring to the children at Dover Elementary, where 75 percent of the students are migrant.

What services do you provide at the school?

We have 15 tutors who come into the school at different times to tutor the children in reading and math. Currently, we are tutoring one fifth-grade class that we’ve been working with since they were in the first grade and two first-grade classes. In addition, the entire church has adopted the school. We collect things like blankets, clothes and school supplies for the children. Over the holidays, when school is out and the children don’t receive free breakfasts and lunches, we collect dry cereals, canned goods and flour for the families. Last year we gave out hygiene kits to 200 fourth- and fifth-graders containing toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant and other hygiene products. We also provided picnic tables for the school’s reading garden and volunteers for the school’s annual work day.

Why do you provide these services year after year?

I think the greatest reward is the smiles and hugs from the kids. You really get to know these children and get so much satisfaction out of seeing them improve. I know you hear this all the time, but I really do think we get more out of it than they do. It’s such a blessing to get to work with them. 

– D'Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer based in the Brandon area.

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