|Children learn reading skills in homeless shelter
Ginger Cashin works with third-grader Mayce Simpson
during Reading is Fun, a literacy program operated by Atlanta Urban
Ministries for children living in homeless shelters. UMNS photos by
By Heidi Robinson*
Sept. 17, 2008 | ATLANTA (UMNS)
Sixteen children gleefully hop off the yellow bus after a full day in
school, chattering with friends as they head inside for a snack.
They are home—for now—at a homeless shelter for mothers and children.
Alethia Simpson and her children plan to move into an apartment soon.
"When does the reading program start tonight?" asks Mayce, a third-grader.
Mayce and her family came to the shelter several months ago as her mother struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine.
"There have been blessings in this crisis," says Mayce’s mother, Alethia
Simpson, 36. "The tears I am crying now are tears of joy."
Simpson’s three daughters—Mayce, Chelsea and Tracie—entered Reading is
Fun, a program offered twice a week to the shelter's children. The
literacy program has been operated for five years by Atlanta Urban
Ministries, an outreach of the United Methodist North Georgia
Simpson says the program has had a dramatic effect on her daughters' outlook on school.
"Chelsea would cry when someone asked her to read, and her teacher said
she was on the border of failing last year," Simpson says. "Her latest
progress report has As and Bs. I am so proud of her. My girls are now
helping other children read."
Millicent Green uses flash
cards to help a second-grader.
The ministry serves about 100 children each year and hired educator Millicent Green to oversee the sessions.
"Children who experience homelessness have special academic needs," says
Green, a public school teacher in Atlanta. "They may change schools
multiple times within the school year. It creates gaps in their
learning. We want to bridge the gaps with solid reading skills."
Reading is Fun relies on a dedicated team of 15 volunteers who tutor the
children in reading fluency, sight words and phonics. Coming from a
variety of professional backgrounds, the volunteers are accountants,
business leaders, college students and retirees.
"No teaching experience is required, but consistency is a must,"
explains Ginger Cashin, supervisor of children’s programs at Atlanta
Urban Ministries. "Our programs help offer a source of stability when
families have been in survival mode."
Lockheed Martin engineer Robert Hanson has volunteered here for years.
He holds flashcards for a struggling third-grader and says, "OK, the 'y'
sounds like a long 'i.' Let’s try this word again."
Atlanta Urban Ministries also provides after-school homework help and a writing lab to hone language arts skills.
Volunteer Robert Hanson helps a child practice reading.
Tracie Simpson, 15, proudly shares the difference the personalized help has made to the start of her high school experience.
"I used to be afraid to read in front of my class. Now I read faster, I
speak louder. I am in a literature and debate class, and I am getting
great grades," says the ninth-grader. "It is fun to read. I didn’t know
there were so many books to choose from."
Most of the shelter's families live here for about eight weeks, and the
children attend public schools in Atlanta. As each school-age child
enters the shelter, he or she receives a reading assessment. Most score
below grade-level, and some of the children have had to start at the
"We knew we needed to provide this," Cashin says. "Some of our kids
would come in after school and couldn’t read the directions for the
homework. Our hope is that they develop a love reading, but more than
that they will know they are capable."
*Robinson is a freelance producer based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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