Bridges To Education

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, November 29, 2012

FARMVILLE – Most Wednesday nights, the fellowship hall of Race Street Baptist Church is filled with studious, but impatient learners. On October 24, eight Prince Edward students and eight Longwood students spread out over the fellowship hall tables, working on reading, writing and math homework.

One student puzzles over the pronunciation of “Hughes” – a silent “gh” can be real tricky -while another tries his hand at spelling “fireman.” There are many furrowed brows and plenty of frustrated sighs.

However, these determined students have patient teachers. Longwood students who are a part of GROWTHE, Great Role-models Opening Windows To Higher Education, come here every week to tutor the youth of Race Street Baptist Church and other local children.

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The GROWTHE members ask the students lots of questions and help them find the answers if they don't know them off-hand, having them reread sentences or rewrite words. Some students may wish that their patient tutors would just give them the answers, but instead they have to look back to see how many plays Langston Hughes actually did write (a lot, at least two dozen) or erase that backwards “e” in “fireman” themselves.

Cainan Townsend, president of GROWTHE and a faithful Wednesday night tutor, says that education is not just about rushing through homework to make a teacher happy. Instead, education is about learning how to think independently, develop good study habits and value the usefulness of knowledge to better one's own life.

An aspiring elementary school teacher, Townsend hopes to teach students the need and usefulness of reading for their future. So, there are no easy answers for the students he tutors, just lots of practice.

And, the hard work has paid off, according to Benita Hatcher, youth advisor at Race Street Baptist Church. Students have improved their reading skills and some have even seen their grades increase since the tutoring began.

After their tutoring, the students are rewarded by a snack provided by Race Street Baptist Church. Recently, the church raised donations to acquire computers in a separate, quieter room to enhance student learning, allowing them to access school information and do research online. In the future, the church hopes to also host computer classes for some of the older members of the congregation.

Education Is The Key

Townsend believes that the repercussions of the Prince Edward School closings can still be felt throughout the county. He hopes to instill in future generations the possibility of attending a four-year college or university, something he felt too many of his peers from Prince Edward High School chose not to do.

He sees a cycle that began with the school closings to the present day. Because children did not have parents that graduated high school and just went straight into the workforce, he believes they didn't learn to value their own education, much less think beyond high school to a four-year institution like Longwood University.

This is why Townsend has decided to help resurrect GROWTHE, a service organization at Longwood University. The goal of GROWTHE is to “train, educate and inspire students and members of the community of higher educational opportunities, the avenues to reach these places, and the motivation to accomplish the goal. Also to give back to, and in the process learn about, Prince Edward County.”

GROWTHE is envisioned by Townsend as a means to “bridge the gap between Prince Edward County and Longwood University.”

GROWTHE has three purposes, according to Townsend, and they all relate back to education. “Our first goal is to educate people on what happened, so people will understand why the school is the way it is,” says Townsend, referring to the Prince Edward school closings.

He realizes that “we can't fix years of problems in one day or one year,” however, he believes that educating the Longwood student body and the community about the past can make a difference.

Second, Townsend hopes to mend the bond between Longwood University and Prince Edward County.

Third, GROWTHE is meant to help increase graduation rates and encourage students to go to four-year colleges and universities.

Besides the weekly Wednesday night tutoring at Race Street Baptist Church, GROWTHE members also completed a book drive recently and are in the process of collecting “Box Tops” for Prince Edward Public Schools. This spring, in conjunction with the Big Brother/Big Sister program, they are planning a field day for local students.

GROWTHE is a sister organization of Longwood University's Call Me MISTER program, a teacher scholarship program that seeks to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader, more diverse background.

Call Me MISTER Director, Maurice Carter, commented on GROWTHE's emphasis on education: “There may not be a lot that we can do with what happened 60 years ago, 70 years ago… There is a dangerous cocktail out there called ignorance and arrogance and the way you dispel that dangerous cocktail… is through education. Period.”

While it may take many hours of frustrating spelling mistakes and tricky phonics lessons, there are some students out there, from both Longwood University and Prince Edward Public Schools, who are willing to put in the effort to learn new things and share old knowledge. And, if education is as powerful as Carter and Townsend claim, those faithful souls on Wednesday night, and the entire Town of Farmville, may never be the same.