Raising the grade at Melrose Elementary




Editor’s Note: This story about mentors at a church making a difference to the lives of children at a local elementary school was submitted by Rev. Dr. Craig Nelson of First UMC St. Petersburg.

Our church has a ministry with Melrose Elementary School in St. Pete. This is not news to most of you, but yesterday I was so amazed by what I got to see at the school that I just had to share it with you.

When you walk into the heart of the school, which you have to do to get to the library where our party was, you pass landscaping that our church provided a couple of years ago. Being led by a scholar (that’s what students are called there), we came into the library, which was packed half by people I didn’t recognize and half by people I did. We had as many volunteers there as they did teachers. As I came in, teachers were sharing the blessings of our volunteers being there.

Volunteers from First UMC St. Petersburg are currently working as math and reading tutors at Melrose Elementary. The goal is to bring 25 percent of the school's children up to grade-level proficiency.

One told about how her children fought over being on the list for the next week to be able to read with their guest friends (our church volunteers). That teacher later told me she was so appreciative of the fact that the children could hear the reading correctly and then read it themselves. She asked if we could have a reading blitz where 30 of us would come at the same hour and take each child in her third grade class to spend an hour reading. I told her we would try.

Our church is praying that Melrose’s composite grade will no longer be an F. I would love for them to get an A, but I began to ask what we had to pray for. For them to not receive an F, they need 25 percent of their children to score at, or above, grade-level proficiency. That would give them a D.

I was then thinking, wait…that means of the 80 children in the school’s third grade last year, less than 20 could read and do math at the third grade level. That evening I shared this statistic with the staff parish relations committee. I broke down crying. It was just too much for me to comprehend that the vast majority of those children weren’t reading at grade level.

According to our county’s website, only 10 percent of the fourth-graders at Melrose read at fourth grade level or above. Ten percent. It is into this reality the teachers of Melrose drive every morning. It is a reality that is just 2.5 miles from our church.

So what are we doing? We are sending volunteers to the school in all grade levels, including the preschool. Math and reading tutors and mentors go every week and just help out. We help in other ways too.

Did you know that last year the attendance rate was at 50 some percent? Yesterday it was at 93 percent. Why? The principal asked our church if we would sponsor a field trip to Chuck E. Cheese for the children who had perfect attendance. We did.

The children loved it and told others about it. They have now gone twice. The school has since been awarded a grant for this activity. One of the teachers told me that they now tell their parents, “I’ve got to get to school today!”

Something is changing there. You can feel it.

This is why we are praying for Melrose every Sunday from the pulpit, and the volunteers who have taken selfies are praying every day for their adopted teachers. It’s for those children and their brave teachers.



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