Mississippi College

THINK Together Discovery Center Assists Clinton Students

October 1, 2013

Helping Clinton children improve their math skills and become better readers brings smiles on the faces of dedicated  Mississippi College volunteers at the THINK Together Discovery Center.

It’s Thursday afternoon in late September at the Hunter Oaks Apartments in Clinton, and students like third grader Evelyn Trejo, 8, of Northside Elementary see the benefits of  tutoring assistance.

MC tutors are delighted to see them learn and make progress on their homework.

“I love working with the kids,’’ says MC student Tyler Emerson, a Christian Studies major from Florence. He was spending his first day as a volunteer with the university’s service learning English classes.

Some like Rhoda Royce, wife of MC President Lee Royce, have volunteered for seven years at the tutoring center at the 144-unit apartment complex. She can’t hide her enthusiasm.

“I enjoy this hard work because I believe it is valuable for these students and the college community,’’ Royce said. “Those of us involved have grown in our understanding of the students and of how to do what we are doing.’’

Royce is a fixture at the center, usually volunteering four days a week.

During the session, one of the Clinton kids says she’s become a “champion reader’’ since receiving help at the THINK Together Discovery Center. She reads every book on her shelf at home!

Whether they come from China or nearby Southern states, Mississippi College students represent the bulk of the volunteers helping Clinton youngsters with their homework five days a week.

“I just love it,’’ says MC senior Brieontae Taylor, 21, of Meridian, who’s in his third year as a student volunteer. “The kids are learning – that’s the main point. I love the atmosphere, and feel I’m playing a major role in their lives,’’ says the center’s student director.

California businessman Sam Anderson, a Mississippi College alumnus who owns the apartment complex, got the tutoring program launched seven years ago. He observed how effective similar educational programs were working at apartments in California. Today, there are tutoring centers operating at 400 locations in California with over 100,000 students served in the afternoons.

Over the years, the number of Clinton students getting help at the THINK Together Discovery Center has doubled. Typically, there are about 40 Clinton youngsters, from elementary grades through high school, receiving tutoring assistance on a daily basis. “We are pleased with the progress being made,’’ Anderson said in a telephone interview. “We couldn’t do it without the help of the Mississippi College students. Rhoda Royce is the heart and soul of the program.’’

A former Pearl High counselor, Ernest Larry serves as the center’s director. The Mississippian earns kudos from his colleagues as a key player year-round. Royce describes him as “our indispensable educator’’ and faithful friend for years.

Success stories at the tutoring center rooms at Hunter Oaks Apartments are clearly evident. Gladys Watson began receiving homework help as a fifth grader when the facility first opened. Gladys continues to reap the benefits from the services of volunteers. This fall, Watson is a Clinton High senior who wants to go to nursing school.

On her first day as a tutor, Jiang “Janet’’ Ri, a Mississippi College graphic design major from China, was making a difference as she worked with Lydia, a 9-year-old Northside third grader. “These kids are very cute and want to know information about China,’’ says the 23-year-old from Beijing. “This is a good way to make the children know a different culture.’’

Jiang and her classmate Xun “Colin’’ Lin, 23, an MC graphic design major from China, served as volunteers at the Boys & Girls Clubs in metro Jackson, but this year turned their focus to the THINK Together Discovery Center. They see it as a nice way to be good neighbors and serve others.

Located off U.S. 80, the center is open Monday through Friday afternoons. The doors open at 3 p.m. for first through third graders. At 4 p.m., Clinton middle school students arrive. At 5 p.m., Clinton High  students visit. Each session lasts sixty minutes. There are about 100 Clinton children among 450 apartment complex residents eligible to get help.

It’s often hard to tell who gets more out of the experience – the Clinton children or the Mississippi College volunteers.

An MC junior from Memphis, Jenny Fullner, 20, volunteered at the center last spring as part of an service-learning English 102 class taught by professor Kristi Melancon. “I absolutely loved the experience,’’ she said. “I loved seeing the kids get excited when they walked in and saw that I was there.’’

Lingshan Song, assistant director of the Mississippi College Writing Center, is delighted to see the 16 international students and five Americans in her class contributing as tutors. “They all have a heart for serving and helping others.’’

Clinton Public School District Superintendent Phil Burchfield applauds the positive contributions of the THINK Together Discovery Center located a few miles from the Mississippi College campus.

 “We want all students to be successful and the MC tutoring program has had a direct impact on a lot of children’s lives,’’ Burchfield said. “We value and appreciate their help and we’re grateful for the MC faculty and students who have tutored so many Clinton students over the years.’’

For more information on the THINK Together Discovery Center and other opportunities to serve as volunteers, contact Shari Barnes, director of MC’s Community Service Center, at 601-925-3267 or sbarnes@mc.edu

Photo: THINK Together Discovery Center volunteers Rhoda Royce, and Mississippi College students Xun "Colin'' Lin, and Jiang "Janet'' Ri, both graphic design majors from China, are delighted to offer tutoring assistance to Clinton children. The center at the Hunter Oaks Apartment is open Monday through Friday afternoons.

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