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Students volunteer at local elementary school

IC Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, February 23, 2012

Updated: Thursday, February 23, 2012 04:02

Great Expectations

Photo courtesy of Erica Pharis

UT students who volunteer at Great Expectations Elemementary School help teachinitial sounds, rhyming and phonemics.

A new charter school specializing in teaching academically underdeveloped and economically underprivileged children is looking for student volunteers for two programs.

Great Expectations Elementary, located on Hill Avenue, works closely with UT's Speech Language Pathology Department and education majors to teach children how to better enhance their phonological awareness, oral and receptive language skills.     

Alyssa Bifulco, a senior major in Speech Language Pathology, said volunteers make lesson plans for the students based around their current curriculum. Bifulco said they teach initial sounds, rhyming and phonemics.

"They know we are coming to teach each week so this gets the children used to a routine. We work on pre-reading skills, as well as working to create structure in their daily lives," Bifulco said.

Many of the students at Great Expectations are not at the academic grade level they should be.

 For example, a student may be at a third-grade age, but his or her current knowledge may only be at a first-grade level.

Erica Pharis, director of instruction at Great Expectations, said the elementary school requires new students to take a diagnostic computer test once they are enrolled, and the resulting data allows the school to place the child at the academic level that best fits them.

 "[Great Expectations] involves teaching science and social studies through art instruction," Pharis said. "Large group instruction introduces the state standards to the entire class, then ability groups break apart and attack the skills missed or needed to be able to successfully maintain the knowledge and understanding of the state standard."

Great Expectations recently added a lunch/mentor program where UT students mentor children and eat lunch with them on Friday afternoons. The purpose of this program is not based around academics, but rather to build relationships between the student and volunteer.

"Volunteers from the university come in during lunchtime to eat lunch with certain children who are working on social skills, good behavior and emotional stability," Pharis said. "The children earn this special time to interact with university students through conversation, board games, gym activities and computer time."

Along with the lunch/mentor programs, UT students tutor on afternoons throughout the week. They spend time with the children honing in on specific areas the individual child needs improvement on, such as reading and math skills.

Pharis said the goal of this program is to let children see what it looks like to go to college.

Bifulco said the mentor program is about one-on-one interactions where the mentor and child can form a special bond and build a trusting relationship.

"I feel a sense of excitement every time I go," Bifulco said. "The students look forward to seeing you and you feel the same way back; you could not ask for a better environment."

Pharis said UT students have the power to make a difference in these kids' lives and give them an insight into the potential the kids' lives can hold.

"Knowing that giving one hour per week will enhance a child's learning, encourage them to be a better citizen, show them they have the potential to attend college someday, the ability to change their current living situation, it is simply priceless the feeling a volunteer will have leaving us at the end of the day, week or year," Pharis said.

For more information regarding volunteer programs, please contact Erica Pharis at 419-490-6252.


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