© Dmitriy Shironosov | Dreamstime.com
When Jackie Flaum arrives each Thursday afternoon at Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School, she knows exactly what her hour will hold. Flaum, who volunteers with Team Read, works one-on-one with eager second graders, helping them to learn sight words. The curriculum is easy to follow and gives both students and Flaum a sense of accomplishment as the children steadily master this reading task. What’s more, reading scores at the school have rocketed over the past several years.
Flaum is among a host of volunteers, all members of Germantown United Methodist Church (GUMC)’s Urban Haven Project, who give of their time at Caldwell-Guthrie. The partnership has been a good one. Team Read, which Flaum helped to develop, has been so successful in raising students reading scores here that it’s now being replicated in 45 Shelby County elementary schools district-wide.
You’ll probably be hearing a lot about the program in the coming months. It’s a positive example of the type of community involvement with the school system that Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson would like to build on.
The message is simple: Education Involves Everyone. That slogan will be conveyed in a number of ways in the coming months as Shelby County Schools (SCS) launches its latest media campaign, aimed at increasing community involvement and driving traffic to their website to learn how. The school system will begin rolling out messages on billboards (featuring strong teachers and leaders), social media, and public service announcements via partnerships with Comcast, Clear Channel, the University of Memphis, and Memphis Parent magazine.
“There’s a strong correlation between community involvement and student achievement,” notes Hopson. He views the launch of this campaign as a way of reminding residents that “education involves everyone. The school district isn’t equipped to solve all the social problems our children experience.” The hope is that with more residents becoming involved with the schools, academic achievement will follow.
Improving literacy rates, which remain low system-wide, is chief among Hopson’s educational goals. It works hand-in-glove with his desire to raise Shelby County’s graduation rate by focusing on literacy, math, and career counseling. In 2013, 68 percent of Shelby County students were not proficient in reading by third grade, according to a study by Strive Mid-South. Just under 70 percent of the district’s students graduated on time.
Raising the boat
“We recognize that this is an issue, so how can we meet the needs of the children?” asks Donna Gaines, co-chair of Arise Memphis, an education outreach ministry of Bellevue Baptist Church.
As the wife of Bellevue Baptist Pastor Steve Gaines, Donna Gaines has long been involved with projects that targeted inner-city schools. But after tutoring reading at Binghampton Christian Academy, Gaines decided to hone her focus.
She organized Arise Memphis two years ago with one goal in mind: to improve reading levels in grades K-3. She called the Tennessee Department of Education and received the Priority School list, the lowest-performing schools across the state. With 83 schools on that list, 69 were in Memphis. Gaines knew she had work to do.
Her organization received tutor training from GUMC, then began its own version of Team Read. Now, ARISE trains other congregations from all denominations interested in partnering and tutoring students in the public schools.
“Last year we had enough tutors to work with every child in the second grade at Treadwell Elementary,” says Gaines. “We’re all aware that we need to capture these kids and get them on grade level.”
“People are stepping up to the plate because it’s very worthwhile and they find it satisfying,” notes SCS Community Engagement Specialist Barbara Dawson, who oversees Team Read. Currently, 45 elementary schools use the program. Dawson says her office will be adding 25 additional schools as well as more training sessions through her office for those interested in the program.
Other ways to serve
What other types of activities can community volunteers do? Schools often need test proctors, safety patrols during dismissal times, field trip chaperones; the list is varied. One benefit that comes from churches and businesses participating at partner schools is that they learn first-hand of needs. When volunteers at Treadwell Elementary got wind of a teacher leaving on her lunch hour to buy shoes for a student, Bellevue held a women’s event and instead of charging a fee, they asked participants to bring one new pair of shoes. They raised 326 pairs of children’s sneakers for the school.
In addition, SCS is redesigning their website, making it easier for parents and the community to find school-related information. That could help improve parent involvement as well, says Mary Earheart-Brown, manager of family and community engagement. “It’s important for families to be involved with their kids’ education, because children do better, and they stay in school longer. We want parents engaged in student learning.”
It takes a village, after all.
Want to Lend a Hand?
Here are some ways to connect
Volunteer Orientation SCS Parent and Community Engagement Office Tuesday, December 2, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. & Tuesday, December 16, 4-5 p.m. Board of Education, 160 Hollywood Learn the scope of volunteer opportunities with SCS.www.scsk12.org
Volunteer training for Team Read for individuals or congregations through Germantown United Methodist Church Urban Haven Project & Team Read •germantownumc.org/index.php/site/page/740/1/8
Volunteer training for Arise Memphis at Bellevue Baptist Church, Team Read • bellevue.org/arisememphis