United Way program keeps students looking up

Tutoring, homework service offers help to area children

abredeson@islandpacket.comNovember 21, 2011 

  • The nonprofit group Thumbs Up, part of United Way of the Lowcountry, offers free after-school tutoring to northern Beaufort County students in grades one through eight who have no access to academic help.

    For more information on the organization or to volunteer with the group, call 843-379-8882 or go to www.thumbsupbft.org.

You have to hand it to Dr. Jacqueline Parker -- the Thumbs Up program is in demand.

Executive director of the nonprofit group, Parker said Thumbs Up is providing a much-needed service to the children of northern Beaufort County. She joined the organization in June and said the program has seen success.

"We have a waiting list for the program so I think that's an indication ... of how the school system feels about our program," Parker said.

A United Way of the Lowcountry agency that was founded in 1995 by Sister Mary Trzasko, Thumbs Up offers free tutoring to children in first through eighth grades. Beaufort County School District teachers, guidance counselors and social workers refer students to the program if their parents are unable to provide academic assistance.

The students take the bus from school to the program five days a week. When they arrive, they have a snack and get started on their homework. Parker said there are usually 16 kids and seven or eight volunteers each day.

After homework, the students are required to read for 30 minutes. If they can't read yet, a tutor may read to them. Then the children write in their journals about what they just read.

Sometimes the kids get to play educational games.

And on Fridays, when they have no homework, they get to have a little more fun. Guests will often come in and talk to the children about various topics or provide arts and crafts for them.

Thumbs Up is not just for the school year. There is a short break after school is out in June, but then the kids are back at the program from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for another six weeks. Over the summer the kids have guest speakers and go on field trips. A nutrition specialist came in every Wednesday this summer to speak to the children about the importance of eating healthy. The children took field trips to Hunting Island, the Blue Heron Nature Trail in Ridgeland and Splash Zone Waterpark in Charleston.

Another focus of the Thumbs Up program is character development. The students are expected to give back to the community. They do beach sweeps at least four times a year at The Sands beach in Port Royal. They also did a beach sweep this summer at Hunting Island.

Thumbs Up students recently took on a project to help the Child Abuse Prevention Association in Beaufort. The kids put together welcome boxes for abused children arriving at CAPA's Open Arms Shelter. They decorated the boxes, collected items to put in them, and they delivered the boxes to CAPA on Nov. 4.

"We just want (the children) to be good citizens and not always be on the receiving end but know that they ... need to also know how to give as well," Parker said.

The kids aren't the only ones expected to follow certain guidelines. Their parents must attend quarterly parenting classes.

Parker said Thumbs Up relies heavily on volunteers -- to tutor the children, provide meals, clean the building, take care of the lawn and more. She said more than 40 people volunteer their time with the program throughout the week.

But she said they need more help.

"We try to get our children when they are very young -- hopefully in the first grade," Parker said. "And we keep them with us so we are providing consistent and constant academic tutoring. And also we try to touch on the character development over the years."

She said when a student graduates from middle school, they usually graduate from Thumbs Up as well.

"We feel that we can confidently release them into high school," Parker said. "But our hope is that we will continue to follow them and make sure that if they need any services, that we are here to provide those services to them."

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