Every school year Church of the Resurrection teams up with our partner schools to provide them with support during the school year. Through our partner school series we will look at each school and preview their needs and goals for the upcoming school year. We talked with Welborn Elementary School’s volunteer liaison Ann Carter.
Can you talk about the background of Welborn Elementary School and how Church of the Resurrection initially got involved?
Welborn was a 2010 Bless the School project. One of the things that struck me was that summer school was going on in the kindergarten classes in the morning; afterward the teachers would come over and help us paint. It was a real bonding experience for me as a Bless the School leader to have the participation of the teachers. The opportunity came open to have a liaison there for the 2010-2011 school year and I felt very close to those teachers. The programs that we started were initiated by their former principal Cheryl Rainey. My first year as the liaison was her last year as principal. Her biggest request was a reading program and a perfect attendance program. If the kids aren’t at school they can’t learn. When they miss multiple days at school it counts against them. Most of these kids don’t read on their own. They don’t have books and many times their parents can't read to them. They want to, but there are so many obstacles for some families.
Welborn is about 40 percent Hispanic, 40 percent African-American, 10 percent Hmong, and 10 percent Caucasian. Very little of our Hispanic and Hmong parents can speak or read English. The opportunity to read to their kids isn’t there unless they read to them in Spanish, and then they have to have books. In the inner city most families have fewer than three books in the home. They can’t read 100 minutes a week in the reading program if they don’t have books. The reading program was initially put in place at Welborn and there was a limited budget for the program. Now, every kid who reads a 100 minutes a week gets an incentive bag and a reading book to keep. We have 500 kids at Welborn and on average 300 of them are reading 100 minutes a week. I feel like anytime we can hit above 50 percent we are doing really well. It’s a strong reading program and kids look forward to Friday when they can bring in their reading logs and get their rewards for reading. We call what we do there rewards as opposed to prizes because a prize you win and a reward you earn. We want these kids to understand the value of working hard to earn something. We feel that if we can get them to read then the testing results will follow.
The perfect attendance program requires kids to be at school every day for the current month, that means they haven’t come in late or left early, then they are rewarded for perfect attendance.
Another program we offer makes use of the computers the computer ministry rehabs. The parents earn a computer by volunteering in the school 30 hours in one semester. It’s the idea of working hard and you get rewarded for your hard work.
Can you talk about the roles that reading tutors have at Welborn?
Tutoring is a commitment. You need to be there most weeks. The kids come to rely on their tutors not only for learning, but for friendship and guidance. A tutor can choose the day of the week and time during the school day and the school will work around the person’s schedule to fit them in as a tutor. We can also use volunteers to help us with the reading program. All 300 of those logs have to be evaluated. The program is only as strong as its integrity. We look to make sure they have all 100 minutes and that a parent has signed it and not the student. If the teacher allows it they can read up to 50 minutes at school and then their teacher has to sign off on it. We look at all that when evaluating the reading logs. When we are done we count the rewards out by classroom then we deliver them. The two grades that have the highest percentage of reading logs turned, in get a party on Friday afternoon. We will play math bingo for prizes or have coke floats or something fun with the kids in the afternoon. That gets them to nudge each other and puts an emphasis on working as a team in the classroom to get that party.
Have you seen a correlation yet between the reading logs and state testing?
Tracking it through testing is hard because we probably lose 25 to 33 percent of our students over the school year. We have new kids come in during the year to replace those kids so it is a constant turning of kids in the school. If we try to track it as a class the turnover skews the results. However I can say, its so cool when the kids see us on Friday, to see the excitement in their eyes about what books they read that week.
You mentioned that on average 300 students out of 500 can hit their reading log goals every week. What can Resurrection do to try and get the number closer to 400 students?
We have never gotten 400 students in one week to turn in their reading logs so that would be amazing. A student is not going to go home and read 100 minutes if they are stumbling over every word. The more tutors we have in place who can help those kids become more fluent in their reading skills the better chance we have. I think a lot of times children look at reading as a chore because it is not fun for them but if you have someone reading enthusiastically to them at school, then it becomes fun for them when they go home. They can then read to their younger brother or even to their parents. If they are not familiar with books and their only exposure to books is at school and homework it’s not as much fun for them as playing a video game. When we walk in on Fridays the kids will come up to us really excited and talking about the book they read. Last year was the first year I saw that real excitement.
When does tutoring begin?
The tutors start in September because we want to get through the first testing period and to see which students need tutors. The school is refining how they are assigning tutors. We don’t want just the difficult behavior issues, but someone who needs help in their reading. The tutor can start from 9 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon.
Aside from tutoring, what other ways can volunteers get involved?
We can also use volunteers for our toy store. One of the teachers said to me that they need an incentive for her students to do well on their tests. She didn’t want them rushing through it to get it done because it hurts her when they get bad grades. It doesn’t look like her class is improving and it hurts the school overall. There are two testing goals – one for reading and one for math. We have developed a formula for a toy store so that when the student reaches one of their testing goals they can get to shop for a small toy and if they hit both goals they get to shop for a big toy. We use 600 new toys four times a year for their toy store. We use volunteers for the store to set up, manage, and tear down. It is generally at the end of each quarter. We can use volunteers for perfect attendance which is either the last day of the month or the first day of the month. It generally just takes a couple of hours to reward the perfect attendance.
I'd love to have volunteers for events too such as field day, career day, etc. If someone has an hour to give to make a difference to a child, I can find a rewarding job for that person.
To contact Ann Carter email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.