With the school year right around the corner, some Tellico Village residents are working to help students in the classroom.
The Adopt-a-Class program was started by Karen Hamerslag in spring 2017 to provide classroom volunteers and school supplies for Loudon and Steekee elementary schools.
“We were new here; we moved here from Florida,” Hamerslag said. “In Florida, my husband had great experience doing after-school tutoring for underprivileged children in that area. So when we came here at that point I had now retired ... but we were looking for opportunities and looked around and found that there was no really set program at the local elementary schools, and we were interested in the younger children.”
About 14 volunteers helped in the pilot year after Donna Stapleton, former LES assistant principal and current SES principal, thought the program was a good idea. Now the program has expanded to 40-50 volunteers, but more are always welcome, Hamerslag said.
Volunteers are matched with a classroom at either Loudon or Steekee.
“The volunteers are meant to have direct interactions with the children,” Hamerslag said. “So it varies depending on their ages, and we’re going from pre-K through 5, so there’s quite a bit of difference. It’s very helpful for the little ones who are learning their letters and numbers and are learning to read because the kids who are a little slower really benefit from some direct tutoring, but there’s also needs in the upper grades as well. We’re there primarily to work with the students.”
The program will enter pre-kindergarten this year. Last year served as a limited trial run.
Volunteers participate three to five hours per week, either in one day or split in two sessions.
“The way the curriculum runs at Loudon Elementary is that they have five classes that they call specials — (physical education), music, art, library and guidance,” Hamerslag said. “So each classroom has one of the specials every day and gets each of the specials once a week. Art is new. ... In the guidance class at Loudon they offer the program that is run by Junior Achievement, which is a five-week course about micro-economics and jobs when you grow up, and it’s just a really wonderful experience for the children to learn about preparing to be an adult. They designed it for the volunteers to teach the class, which is a little scary but I did it, I survived. They give you everything you need.”
John Shryock has volunteered for three years.
“You feel like (it’s) your extension of home almost to be in that school,” Shryock said. “Along the walls, for example, you’ll see pictures and written commendations for students in the class. ... There’s just a lot of positive feeling when you walk into the school. Not only do they decorate it beautifully, and teachers will spend their time over the summer putting decorations on the walls. So it’s just a beautiful, friendly place to work.
“After three years in there, the students know your name,” he added. “That encourages you to try to remember students’ names.”
Hamerslag emphasized that Tellico Village is a “very affluent island in a county that is not so.”
“Three out of four of the children that go to Loudon and Steekee are economically disadvantaged,” she said. “You might not tell that by seeing them, but they don’t have the same opportunities that many of our children had when we raised our children in terms of what kind of enrichment we could provide for them. So being able to expand these children’s horizons and help them out I think is a wonderful opportunity of service for our community.”
Hamerslag is looking for help to get the program 501(c)(3) status.
Even if they don’t have time to volunteer, residents can make an impact by donating school supplies.
Although the effort is welcomed all year, Hamerslag said supplies are especially needed before school starts.
“Right now what my emphasis is on helping with back-to-school supplies because children’s families always receive lists — these are the things you should have for your children when they come back to school,” she said. “Not all of the families can provide those. So the school has a certain budget for the year, and they spend it wisely, but it’s very hard to accommodate everything.”
Three categories of supplies are needed, she said.
“One is the things that students are actually using — paper, pencils go through like crazy, erasers,” Hamerslag said. “... The teachers need supplies for what they’re doing as well, and then just the help kind of supplies. They’re always running out of tissues, sanitary wipes, they use a lot of Band-Aids.”
Donations can be dropped off at the Wellness Center, The Public Library at Tellico Village or the Welcome Center in Tellico Village. Cash donations are also accepted and can be sent via check to Hamerslag at 232 Elohi Way, Loudon.
For more information, contact Hamerslag at 352-219-1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration and matching are done in August, with volunteers starting in September.
“We love to get the supplies, but we also encourage people who are willing to give us actual donations, and then I’ve learned where to get the best deals on everything,” Hamerslag said.