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Community volunteers help steer students toward success

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GREENFIELD — At 13 years old, Eric Cisneros is one of the Greenfield Intermediate School’s oldest fifth-graders.

Born premature, the elementary school teenager is small for his age, making it easy for him to blend in with his peers, but he suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the obstacles are many. He’s already repeated two grades, and keeping up is sometimes a challenge.

But a new after-school tutoring program is aiming to help kids just like Eric, who might need a little extra instruction to navigate their studies.

GIS Principal Jim Bever presented the program to the Greenfield-Central School Board during the Spotlight School presentation portion of Monday’s meeting.

The program, he told board members, is run entirely by a small group of skilled volunteers that plans educational games and fun activities to keep fifth-grade students focused on learning.

For Eric, who says he needs the most help in language arts, the weekly sessions are a godsend.

The group meets each Wednesday after school, and Eric said his comprehension is improving.

“When I do my homework, I know it better, and that, like, really helps me because I’m struggling in those classes,” he said on a recent Wednesday during the program.

The program has a two-part setup. First, students complete their homework, if they have any, or play education-related games; then, they are rewarded with a fun activity.

The program is borne of a public convocation the intermediate school had last year to announce some bad news; the Indiana Department of Education had rated GIS a D school on the new A-F scale.

Bever invited members of the public to participate in the convocation that not only broke the news to students but encouraged them to do better.

“I said, ‘We need the community’s help,’” Bever said. “This finds its beginnings in that plea. We continued discussing and planning and gaining momentum, and we’ve turned it into a reality.”

While the tutoring program was originally intended to target at-risk students like Eric, it has blossomed to include a broad cross-section of students, all of whom are welcome.

About 60 kids, more than a third of the fifth grade, signed on to participate when letters went home with parents.

Tyler Hornaday, 10, looks forward to the weekly meetings after school. He doesn’t even mind doing his homework.

“We just get it out of the way, then immediately go to the fun part,” he said.

The program is attractive to both kids and parents for a variety of social and academic reasons, said school guidance counselor Kim Hunt.

“… We don’t have organized sports at the intermediate level or any after-school clubs,” she said. “This gives them something to do after school.”

In addition, the children have a new set of role models to influence them outside the classroom.

“We have a building full of caring adults who have made it their livelihood and made it their calling to love kids and to help make them successful. But with a building of 540 students, the odds aren’t in our favor to build those one-on-one mentoring relationships that are so important in every kid’s life,” she said.

The school hopes to expand the pilot program to include the fourth- and sixth-graders as well, Bever said.

But that’s going to take a lot more volunteers.

“We’re only addressing one third of our students right now, our fifth-grade, students, and this has been a tremendous amount of work,” he said. “We need two-thirds more.”

Chuck Whiting, 67, is one of the current community volunteers. Whiting got involved after seeing a notice for help in the bulletin one Sunday at his church.

Whiting said he gets as much out of the program as the student participants.

“They make me feel young,” he said. “They keep me laughing. They’re extremely intelligent and easy to work with.”

And he believes in the work they’re doing.

“I’ll wager with you all their grades are gonna go up at least one letter,” he said.

That’s certainly been true for 11-year-old Derek Overman’s math grades.

“I went from C to B,” he said. “I didn’t know how to do much stuff. Then, I asked them, and they taught me how.”

Ethan Davis, 28, also got involved through Park Chapel.

Davis said the volunteers hope the program will build momentum to the point where other grades can be included.

“This age is where they start to disengage,” he said. “We’re here to hopefully help that. The sky’s the limit, really.”

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