There can be no doubt that the best way to develop a love of learning in a student is to start off at an early age – even before they start the first grade.
“One of our most rewarding programs is our afterschool program,” says Dyanne Spriggs, co-executive director of our partner, Big Creek People in Action, which serves children and families in impoverished McDowell County, West Virginia.
“Our program offers individual help four days a week during the school year and educational enrichment activities, field trips, and special projects during the summer,” she said, noting that in addition to tutoring, as many as 45 participants receive time on computers, an afternoon snack as well as a full, nutritious meal before BCPIA staff transport the children home.
With grant funding from Americans Helping Americans®, BCPIA can purchase food for the snacks and meals, books and other educational materials, as well as cover transportation and staff costs.
Dyanne knows that she and her staff are sometimes fighting an uphill battle in getting children – and in many cases, even their own parents – to value education.
“We face many challenges when it comes to educating our children,” she told us. “Many of our parents are on public assistance and do not place literacy or education as a high priority for their children.
“Programs such as our afterschool program are vitally needed to provide support to the local school system and give children the opportunity to develop to their full potential.”
Dyanne also explained that “our local elementary/middle school receives very poor ratings and that we have the highest illiteracy rate in the state speaks volumes for the need of any program to encourage children to do better in school.”
BCPIA implemented its afterschool program in 2011 for school-age children in the Big Creek Elementary School District, with Dyanne pointing out, “There are no eligibility requirements other than that. As in all the services we provide, there is no charge for students to attend.”
“Many students would not have help with their homework because some of the parents in our county don’t have the knowledge to help their children with their work – or sometimes they just don’t care.
“Our staff care about the students and give them support that they may not receive at home.”
As the only year-round afterschool program in the area, “We find creative ways to introduce our students to new experiences including field trips and other cultural experiences.”
In addition to operating throughout the school year, BCPIA offers it during the summer months as well.
“Children need to have supplemental academic activities during the summer so that they don’t forget what they learned in school during the previous year,” she said.
The summer literacy program serves preschool children by teaching them their ABCs, how to spell their name and more to help ensure they have the most basic skills before they even enter the first grade.
While, of course, tutoring and mentoring students who need help keeping up in class with their peers is the primary mission of its afterschool program, but equally important is that without it “many children would not receive a nutritious meal when they are not in school.”
About 30 percent of children in the country under the age of 18 “face the risk of hunger every day – including most students in our program.”
With the success of the program, Dyanne can cite a notable list of demonstrable accomplishments including: “Increased self-esteem; increased interest in academics; parents report children show improvement in school performance; and measurable improvement in computer and internet skills.”
In Gainesville, Georgia, our partner there, LAMP Ministries, offers an afterschool program serving nearly 200 children in grades first through fifth.
“This program reaches young students during their development stages of skill and strengths they need to be successful at school and in life,” says LAMP executive director Mary Mauricio.
“We provide a safe environment where the children will receive help with homework, a nutritious snack, a chance to unwind and explore their creativity with arts and crafts and also plenty of encouragement and structure.”
Grant funding from Americans Helping Americans® this year will be used for program supplies including food, school supplies for tutoring, a small gift for each child at Christmas, transportation to school if the school system or family is not providing it and necessities for children who lack them.
Mary explained that such an afterschool program is needed in the community as “most of the children in this program are from below poverty-level homes, most are from single parent homes, and some are being raised by relatives because of their parents being deported or incarcerated.
“LAMP Ministries keeps the focus on the needs of the children and not the status of the parents,” says Mary.
In addition, for many of the parents English is a second language and, in some cases, they do not know enough English to effectively help their children with homework.
While there are other afterschool programs in the area, those are out of reach for LAMP clients “as most are fee based and even those on a sliding scale are beyond the means of the families we serve.”
In Beattyville, Kentucky, described by The New York Times as one of the “hardest” places to live in the country, our partner there, Cumberland Mountain Outreach, operates an after-school care program “in which kids that are exposed to extreme living conditions can have nurturing family-oriented style mentorship and care,” says President/CEO Cindy Evanoff.
“Due to the widespread poverty in Lee County more than half of the city’s population lives below the established poverty line,” she notes.
“Many children are raised in homes that lack the proper family structure and nurture required for a healthy upbringing caused by parents working, undergoing rehabilitation or incarceration.
“This program helps these affected children by caring for their nutritional and dietary needs when they have food insecurities at home.
“This program more importantly gives them a chance to feel the human compassion and mentorship they are in search of.”
She adds that, “This program will give priority to those children in more desperate need of care to be determined case-by-case as this program is geared towards showing extra compression to those in emotionally neglected situations.
“The children in this program will have a safe place to work on homework after school as well as get much needed nutritional meals.
“These services are not readily available to these selected families.”
In Columbia, Maryland, Restoration at The Well (RatW) Outreach Ministry operates an after school program with support from Americans Helping Americans®.
Pastor Kathy Mason says that RatW offers a year-round after school tutoring program for high school students who need help with their homework, resume building, attending job fairs, as well as counseling sessions for those in need on weekends.
In addition, through the after-school program, participants receive snacks and refreshments including a sandwich, chips, salad, fruit and juice to help keep them focused on their tasks.
And back in McDowell County, Dyanne wants to make sure the supporters of Americans Helping Americans® know just how important BCPIA’s afterschool program is to the children who attend and their parents:
“With the support of Americans Helping Americans®, we can extend the reach of our education and afterschool program so that more young people receive the best opportunity to succeed and deal with the rising tide of prescription drug abuse, the debilitating effects of welfare dependency, the state of our county school system, and many others.
“With the support of Americans Helping Americans®, BCPIA is providing access to resources and networks that will, over time, make a larger, significant difference in our community.”