story and photography by Hannah Kicklighter
According to the U.S. Census, 34.9 percent of Clarke County residents are living below poverty level. For the kids living in these homes, schoolwork is not always a top priority. In light of this, programs like Title I and Thomas Lay have stepped in to help.
Title I is a Federal Program Grant implemented in school systems across the country as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to help children at risk of falling behind in class.
Erin Buckley, director of the Athens–Clarke County Title I program, says that the funds for this program are given to schools through a formula tied to Free and Reduced Meals. Essentially, the program receives money based on how many children qualify for free breakfast and lunch according to their parent’s income.
One example of where this money is being used is Parent University. This three-session course teaches parents how to be teachers for their own children. Parents are taught sight words, vocabulary, or literature depending on the level of their child.
Title I uses programs like these, paired with instructional development, to improve the grades of children at risk in schools and better level the playing field for children in impoverished homes.
Thomas Lay, or T-Lay as people working closely with the program like to call it, picks up where the school leaves off. Monday to Friday from 3pm-5:30pm, children from Athens-Clarke County schools come to the volunteer-based program to do homework and play with friends.
Co-Executive Directors, Candace Flagg and Margaret Connolly, agreed that the program gives structure to the kids when they may not get it at home.
“We’re the thing they can come to every single day and that won’t change,” says Connolly.
Afternoons start with homework. Ideally, each child would be paired up to work one on one with a mentor. But since there are an average of 40 kids and about 25 mentors daily, the volunteers tend to help the younger children most and the older children when needed.
The program aims to boost the idea that completing high school and moving on to college is possible. College students serve as role models for these kids. “It’s important to make sure they know school is important,” says Flagg.
After the homework and studies are finished, the children get their choice of the daily club or playing on the playground.
During one visit, a group of about 5 little girls were learning to crochet. They twisted purple and pink yarn around metallic purple needles, and laughed when I told them I did not know how to crochet. One of the girls thrust out her yarn to me with a smile. She said that it was easy and that even I could learn how it’s done.
The Thomas Lay program is funded by The University of Georgia Honors Program, and is looking for more volunteers.
Programs like Title I and Thomas Lay show children in impoverished situations how important education is to their future. These kids in the Athens-Clarke County area know what poverty feels like. But with education and structure, they can succeed in school, and maybe one day become fellow bulldogs.