FLORENCE - Thanks to the hard work and dedication of a group of parents, church leaders, volunteers and educators in Florence, young students who need extra attention are getting the help they need through an after-school tutoring program. And, there’s free nutritious food to sweeten the deal.
The Florence-Carlton junior high and elementary schools have partnered with two churches in town, Dayspring Church and Florence Community Church, to provide a space within walking distance as well as tutors willing to help with homework, organization and anything the kids might need to get ahead at school.
The elementary school has had a Homework Help program for a few years, but Florence Middle School counselor Alli Bristow said she and another parent, Kristin Nei, decided that since there wasn’t an after-school program for the middle school in town, they would solicit community support.
“We were having a hard time coming up with help for kids after school,” Bristow explained. “I did a little research, and our school didn’t qualify for any of the grants I was looking at. We brainstormed, and thought about a volunteer program. We joined up with Allison Dunne-Kinney at the North Florence Family Center and we have been meeting since last year to come up with a parent-run after-school program that had academics.”
They even had a nifty-sounding name for their committee of community members and parents: The Florence After-School Team, or FAST. They conducted surveys of as many parents in the school district as they could, talked about which programs would be most successful, identified barriers to implementing a solution, and identified a strong need for after-school help.
Because they still needed a place to hold the programs and more volunteers, Bristow and Nei decided they would approach Pastor Gregory Ammondson of Dayspring Church, which is just a few blocks from the school.
“He was all for it, and said he had been looking for more ways to become involved with the schools,” Bristow said. “It’s been an amazing process. This is our third week, and we already have 12 kids that have been identified as being a great fit for this program for various reasons. Some of them need help with math, or reading or just organization. We walk them over every day for tutoring, snacks and that extra small group to get all their assignments in and get caught up.”
Bristow said it is just a 10-week pilot program this year, but organizers hope to include more high school, elementary and middle school students next year.
“A lot of parents have been asking us if their kids can get in,” Bristow said. “But right now we don’t have enough tutors to take on any more kids. We need more tutors and money for snacks.”
Bristow said that they perform background checks on all the tutors, but could use as many volunteers as they can get. She said the kids have been overwhelmingly positive in their response to the program.
“I think first of all, having somebody to help them get out their work, ask them questions, get them organized and get their agenda is really helpful,” she said. “It’s really tough for sixth-graders who are coming from a self-contained class to having eight periods a day. They need help organizing and help keeping track of assignments. They don’t want to fail. Just having somebody who is going to be patient, and having more time is a huge boost to these kids.”
Bristow said Florence Middle School principal Audrey Backus was instrumental in getting the program going. The elementary school program is held in Florence Community Church with the help of Pastor Dave Blackwell, in cooperation with program coordinators Lois Horsens and Joyce Schroeder and elementary principal Chrissy Hulla. The elementary school program recently was recognized by the Florence Civic Club for their contributions to the community.
Nei said they hope to grow the programs every year.
“We will assess the program after this first session and work to improve it so that we are meeting the needs of our community,” she said. “We hope to expand the homework program to other age groups by next year. We also are optimistic about teaming with other great community partners such as Day Spring Church, the school and the North Valley Family Center to identify other locations where we can provide leadership, athletic and artistic programming. Taking this slow and making sure we are evaluating our progress will assure our success and enrich our children’s experience here in Florence.”
For more information on how to volunteer or support the Florence After-School Team, call the North Valley Family Center at 273-0142.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.