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Church’s after-school tutoring program makes inroads with students

Church’s after-school tutoring program makes inroads with students

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church’s after-school tutoring program makes inroads with students

July 7, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0515}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Through an after-school program launched at Lakewood United Methodist Church in Jacksonville last January, some elementary school students received the extra help they needed to become more successful in school.

Now, the church hopes the ministry can continue impacting students when school starts again this year.
Led by church member Peggy Toussant, who is certified in elementary education, the church launched the tutoring program using materials provided by the S.A.Y. (Save America’s Youth) Yes! Program of the Here’s Life Inner City initiative. S.A.Y. Yes! is under the umbrella of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCFC). Church leaders began the program after being approached by a CCFC director who was looking for churches with facilities that could accommodate the program.

“I was most motivated by the fact that I would be in a Christian setting doing something I enjoy doing, which is after-school care and working with (school) aged children,” Toussant said.

A number of people helped Toussant set up the program, including the Rev. Pam Hall of the Community Outreach Agency in the Florida Conference’s North East District. Hall helped research the types of schools to target and approached the principals and teachers to find the right students for the program, which focuses on helping children who are struggling with their school work, especially third graders preparing for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

After providing teachers and principals with information about their plans, teachers offered the information to parents of some of their students, Toussant said. It was then left up to the parents to contact Toussant to register their children for the program. Although it took a while to find interested families, the program helped eight children in third, fourth and fifth grades from San Jose Elementary, located about two miles from the church.

“We opened it first only to third-graders because we felt like we had to have all of the volunteers in place in order to do the program,” Toussant said. “We only got a couple of parents interested … so we opened it to third, fourth and fifth (grades).”

The church had to follow strict requirements regarding the number of children per volunteer and ensuring children were never alone with one adult. Because Lakewood United Methodist Church is not in a location that would allow students to walk to the church, Toussant and her team met their students at a bus stop near the school and walked the children to the church.

“We did take our information to four schools altogether, (but) this was the one that seemed so viable because we were able to get the bus transportation,” Toussant said. “That was one of our big issues to resolve before we got started.”

After several months in the program, Toussant said students began showing improvement.

Fourth-grader Ana Johnson was one of them, according to her father, Mark Johnson.

“Her attitude has changed toward her homework and her grades have improved,” Johnson said. “We’re really pleased with it, and we are planning on enrolling her next year.”

Johnson and his wife, Rita, enrolled Ana in the program because she was struggling with the motivation to do her homework each day. After being in the after-school group for a while Ana began completing all her work and raised her grades to A’s. Ana’s teachers told the Johnsons Ana had become a wonderful student.

“For the last two years she’s been talking about trying to bring her grades up so she can be a crossing guard,” Johnson said. Ana’s grades now qualify her to serve as a school crossing guard for the next school year; she began her training May 1, Johnson said.

Although the Johnsons do not attend the church, they said Ana now reads the Bible in the evenings.

Toussant said most of the program curriculum resources are based on “The Book of Virtues,” by William Bennett. Toussant gathered the materials from the Here’s Life Web site.

The children attended the after-school program each weekday, beginning right after school and running through about 6 p.m. For the first hour, the students received a snack and enjoyed some down time before beginning their homework, Toussant said.

In addition to working on academic subjects, the kids also learned practical living skills. They earned “dollars” for making good choices and were in charge of tracking their money in a checkbook. Once a month, the dollars could be spent in the program’s store, which was full of donated items and set up by a volunteer.

“That is one of the neatest things about this program, and there are so many lessons in that one activity,” Toussant said.

Additionally the program offered kids a chance to work on gross motor skills, as well as reading out loud. The evening ended with recreation, then family time. About three to five volunteers from a pool of about 15 served each day.

“We have wonderful volunteers,” Toussant said. “People have stepped up to do this with me — it was just the hearts of people in our church. We want to share what we have.”

There is a need for this type of program in more churches, according to Hall.

“These kids not only do better in school, but these children have less rates of delinquency, and they do promote better,” Hall said. “It has a pretty broad impact.”

Toussant hopes the group will continue in the next school year and the church can secure grants to assist with expenses. Grants usually aren’t available for start-up programs, but are possible after about a year, Hall said. One possible change she sees for the program would be to make the director’s position paid, rather than voluntary, which is the recommendation for structuring a S.A.Y. Yes! center. Toussant waived her salary during the last school year.

“After we get a year (with the program), we will then be in a posture to get some faith-based grants,” Hall said. “They have got to have a track record.”


This article relates to Outreach Ministry.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.