By Jean Schurman
It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. In Florence, a community is making the difference to about 20 students each year. The community is the Florence Carlton Community Church and the common denominators between the school, the church and students are a couple of retired teachers – Lois Horsens and Joyce Schroeder. The two were recently honored by the Florence Civic Club for their contribution to the community with this program.
Lois Horsens taught at the Florence school for 27 years. During that time, she taught kindergarten, first, sixth, Title 1, and reading. Joyce Schroeder was in the Florence School District for 13 years. She taught first, fourth and fifth grades during that time.
The program is called Homework Help. Horsens began the program because as a teacher she saw many students who just couldn’t get their homework done after school.
“When both parents are working, it’s hard to come home after work, try to get dinner cooked, help your child with their homework, and do the many other things that students are involved in,” said Horsens. She soon enlisted Schroeder’s help and the two prayed about how to proceed. They soon had volunteers from the church to help with homework.
The program runs from October 1st to May 1st. The sessions are every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and run from 3:30 to 4:35. At first, Horsens and Schroeder would bring the students with them in their own cars and then take them home after the session. But as the number grew, it became evident a different mode of transportation was needed.
Enter the Florence Carlton Community Church. The outreach mission of the church is to spread the gospel of Jesus to Florence and the world beyond. With this in mind, the congregation decided to help the two teachers in their mission. They not only supplied more volunteers but also decided use the church van/bus as a way to take the students home after the session. The church also funds the cost of the gas which is the largest cost of the program.
“It not a way to get more members,” said Schroeder. “It’s community outreach filling a need.”
The only religious aspect of the program is at the beginning of the session when the students and volunteers gather to say The Lord’s Prayer. Once that is over, the kids head for their assigned groups and Homework Help begins.
When Schroeder and Horsens were still teaching at the school, it was easy for them to see who really would benefit with extra help after school but now that they are ‘retired’, the two rely upon the teachers at the school and the Title 1 program recommendations to get the students into the program. However with room for only 20 students, and with many students returning to the program each fall, there isn’t a lot of room for new students. But there is a waiting list and as one drops out, another comes in.
The program is set up with one volunteer and four students per group. The grades range from first grade to fifth grade. Reading and math are emphasized but if the student doesn’t have homework, then the student practices spelling words, works on math facts and quizzes or reads. Communication with the parents and the teachers keep the volunteers and students on track. If the student is absent, the parent is expected to call either Schroeder or Horsens.
“It’s a question of safety and respect,” the two concur. If the parents don’t call in an absence, Horsens or Schroeder are on the phone tracking down the child.
There are about 18 volunteers that help with the program. Not all are teachers but all want the children to excel. Some help in the groups of students, others put together program packets and others drive the students home. The turnover rate of the volunteers is almost nil and so the continuity of the program remains pretty stable. In addition, this has allowed Schroeder and Horsens to divide up their duties a little more. Each has one day a week off but both will step in and cover for the other for vacations and trips.
Early on in the Homework Help program, Schroeder said they planned complex snacks for the students but as the program has evolved, so have the snacks. Although occasionally there are fancy snacks, most days its popcorn or pretzels with apples or other fruit once in a while.
While both women are passionate about teaching and helping students, both are also very adamant the award from the Civic Club shouldn’t be ‘a Lois/Joyce award. It should be a recognition of a congregation putting the needs of students first.’