Church combats summer brain drain

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Eighty at-risk learners will resume school more prepared this August thanks to a church-based pilot program pairing students and teachers for one summer month.
The Orchard, a United Methodist Church, organized and hosts the program at its Tupelo campus where elementary-age children attend five days per week. They’re divided into eight classrooms – each staffed by a certified teacher, teacher’s assistant and volunteers – to receive specialized instruction aimed at boosting reading skills.
Tupelo’s Head Start program referred most of the children, who were deemed at risk for losing skills during the summer break. Others came from area day care centers.
The program, called Summers.a.l.t, began June 4 and ends today. Orchard staff then will choose eight participants whose progress will be tracked throughout the school year to gauge skill retention and academic achievement, said Merissa Rambo, the church’s branching out minister.
If successful, Rambo said, the program will expand next year to include more children and possibly more churches.
“We really started dreaming out this last summer,” said Bryan Collier, lead pastor. “The Orchard exists to make a difference in the world, and there are lots of opportunities to do that, but one of the greatest ways is through children.”
Although teachers and assistants were paid, the program was free for children and their families. Rising Rankin Elementary third-grader Tyrique Harris called the experience “good, because you can learn here and have fun here.”
In addition to group lessons and one-on-one help, children also learn Bible verses and participate in Integrity Time, which reinforces positive character traits.
One of the program’s teachers, Robin Carruth of the Tupelo Public School District, lauded the program for its dedication to children and the opportunity to teach in a smaller, more relaxed setting.
“They’re learning more, because you are one-on-one and looking them straight in the eyes,” she said. “You can see the deficits more clearly and address them. It’s been wonderful.”

Click video to hear audio