David Lauderdale

'Virtual summer school' helps make life real

In a way, this has been a virtual summer vacation for Hilton Head Preparatory School senior Allison Frederick.

Allison is taking part in a "virtual summer school." She's not a student. She's a volunteer, giving up her own time to help elementary school students do reading and math drills.

It's called "virtual" because the students practice their basic skills on software in a room full of computers. And the room is not in a school. It's in a one-bedroom apartment at The Oaks, which is not among Hilton Head Island's glamour addresses. It's part of a three-complex area that most often gets in the newspaper in connection with violence and crime.

On Thursday morning, you could hear a pin drop in the room as 23 students -- all Hispanic, all well-dressed and well-behaved -- worked at desktop computers supplied by Hilton Head Island Elementary School.

Younger students used laptops under the eye of Allison. Older ones worked under Lori Roos, the adult coordinator for the seven-week program. She, too, is a volunteer, twisting her work schedule as a life coach around the daily 90-minute sessions at The Oaks.

Through the nonprofit Neighborhood Outreach Connection, they find themselves reaching into places they may have been afraid to go not long ago. They want to empower children with education. They want to improve lives, and thereby the economy. NOC volunteers are doing the same in a Bluffton apartment.

Both island volunteers got involved when NOC chairman Naren Sharma of Hilton Head, who has a doctorate in economic development, addressed Prep students about its mission: "To help all individuals in the community achieve the 'American Dream' -- economic independence and personal fulfillment."

Allison and other members of the Interact Club started tutoring children at The Oaks after school. Roos, who has one child at Prep and another in college, got involved to share her programming skills.

She sees children who want to learn and have the ability to learn, but who don't have the extra help they need at home. Parents often want to help, but can't speak English, she said.

And at school the curriculum rushes along at such a fast pace that it's easy for large numbers of students to fall behind. The demand on teachers to cover long lists of academic standards is relentless. Many students need extra time and extra help.

That's why Lori Roos and Allison Frederick have had virtual vacations this summer.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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