Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that schools in our own backyard need help too. Resurrection West has rallied behind one school in particular – Ridgeview Elementary School. We talked with Jennifer Cutler who is Resurrection’s volunteer liaison to Ridgeview about what we having coming up for the 2013-2014 school year.
How did Resurrection West initially get involved with Ridgeview Elementary?
When Rez West opened six or seven years ago, like any new church we got together and began to think about what our missions were going to be. There was a significant interest in supporting schools and I think a big reason for that is we have many young families at West. We considered working alongside Leawood to help with their partner schools, but because we are in Olathe and we have schools in our own backyard that need us, we started thinking about partnering with an Olathe school. We went to Ridgeview and we saw a significant need.
Can you give a background of Ridgeview Elementary?
Ridgeview in Olathe is a very small school, of 250 -275 kids and more than 50% that are Hispanic. Many of their parents don’t speak any English. Kids who need it, receive ELL (English Language Learner) services. Ridgeview is also a Title I school which means it is federally funded for extra support in reading and math. In the Olathe Public Schools we have 10 Title I buildings. At Ridgeview, 80 - 90% of the kids are receiving free or reduced lunch, and that is the qualifier used by the federal government for “students living in poverty.” That’s a very high percentage in Johnson County.
When I met with the principal at the outset, it was apparent that the needs for Ridgeview would be different from the other schools in the Bless the Schools program. One of the things that Bless the Schools often did was a “blitz” to repair and paint a building over the summer. In Olathe, the district covers all that. If you drove by the building you would think that it looks like a wonderful school – which it is. The district takes care of the “physical plant,” and the technology. It is the same at Ridgeview as any other Olathe school. The physical needs of the school are covered, so the church doesn’t have to meet those needs.
What we chose as our goal was transforming the community. Every summer the church sponsors a community dinner once a week. When we started these dinners years ago we were lucky if we had 30 or 40 people. Our last dinner we had 135 people, which is amazing. I think sometimes the parents come because they are so hot. They live in a house with no air conditioning but they can come to school for a really nice meal prepared by someone else, be cool for a couple of hours, and then enjoy some type of programming. The Olathe Public Library brings the bookmobile every week so the students have books to read over the summer. We also partner with the Y, who provided several different activities. One week, an instructor from the Y taught a Zumba class after dinner.
Can you talk about the literacy program that is in place there?
At Ridgeview, the staff does a great job of teaching and supporting reading. I would say there are 50 to 60 kids who stay for an after-school child-care program provided by the Y. Their staff spends an hour helping with homework and reading with the kids. A lot of those kids need extra help and they are getting that through the Y. The Youth Development program from the Y hopes to scholarship even more students for after-school care, so getting volunteers from Resurrection would be wonderful. They will be needed right after school, any night between 4 and 5 pm.
We can also connect people who want to read with kids during the day, have lunch with them, or even be pen pals with them. You don’t have to be a former teacher to have a kid read a story to you or just talk. The kids really respond to that.
The Ridgeview librarian also tracks how many minutes the students read outside of school. Once a month she rewards those who bring back the calendar showing how many minutes they read. She challenged them last year to read a million minutes during the school year - and they did! The whole school celebrated together. Ridgeview has an environment where reading is valued and rewarded. Our volunteers just try to support their existing literacy program and make it fun.
How many people would you need for the pen pal program?
I would say if we had ten people who would commit to writing one letter, to one child, once a week, that would be fabulous. If we started with ten, there would be ten more kids right away wanting to be a part of that. In our society, we don’t get many hand-written letters anymore. Pen pal letters would be very valuable to the kids; to think someone took the time to write.
What other programs do volunteers help support?
As a church we also help Ridgeview at Christmas time. Last year we opened the Ridgeview Christmas Shop. and We collected gifts for adults at church, wrapped them individually, and had them on site at school. We decorated an unoccupied classroom with greenery, and Christmas lights -- it really looked like Dillard’s. It was beautiful. The kids came in and each picked out three gifts to give to anyone they wanted. I have never seen them beaming like that before. They were so excited. One came to school the next day and he was so excited about the present he gave to his mom. I asked him why he didn’t wait until Christmas and he said he was too excited to wait to give it to her. To me, that is part of this whole transformation. They have never been shopping in a store, they have never been on the giving end of gift-giving. They were so thrilled, and it was so much more exciting for them to give a gift, than to get a gift.
We have also partnered with the Olathe Wesleyan Church as they were interested in offering a soccer camp at Ridgeview. We have teamed up to do it two years in a row, and will be helping again this year. It lasts for six weeks and kids practice two times a week. It is wonderful. Practice starts at 4 pm, when the kids are still at school. We target fourth and fifth graders, divide them up into teams to do practice drills and learn soccer skills. They also learn teamwork and the importance of supporting the other players. At the end, they have an awards ceremony, and a soccer banquet. Ridgeview parents prepare the food. We had over 200 people at last year’s banquet.
What kind of volunteers are you looking for the soccer camp?
It would be great if we could get five college-aged volunteers and four or five adults to commit to helping with soccer camp. The kids really look up to the young adults. It gives Ridgeview kids a sense that they “could be like that, one day.”
You can email Jennifer at email@example.com