By Donna Thornton/News Editor
When the teacher at the Summer Enrichment Program at Wills Creek Baptist Association asked for students to come pray before a group of approximately 100 children, more than a half-dozen readily volunteered and solemnly prayed after asking the others to ‘please bow your head.”
Lessons of respect and the experience of getting up in front of a group are offered to children participating in this free program — in its 12th year — along with a focus on reading, math and science for students from kindergarten to high school age.
The program’s founder, Dr. Gertie Lowe, said she volunteered at Thompson School after retiring and saw that many students needed additional tutoring. She volunteered to help some students in the summer and 17 children showed up for her help.
She called in friends and started a program that has grown now to include 16 teachers and seven volutneers. The program gives students instruction from certified teachers — some retired and some still working.
Marynette Watson is the principal, and Millie Mostella is vice principal of the program.
“We focus on reading and math,” Mostella said. “If we can pull in something fun, we do.”
The children also have a chance to learn to play chess, to learn computer skills and to take trips, Mostella said, that will enrich their lives.
Lowe said each summer the volunteers find there are children who may never have been as far as Attalla. The enrichment program has taken them on trips as far away as Washington, D.C.
This summer, there are plans to visit the McWane Center, and Lowe’s assistant Marcia Kendrick said there will be a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham. Older students will go to Selma, visiting the college there and learning more about Alabama’s history in the Civil Rights Movement.
Those are the special trips. The program offers the children much each day that they attend. There are tips to swim, for those who don’t know how.
The children receive breakfast and lunch at the program, through the state summer nutrition program.
For some, Lowe said, it’s probably the only way they will get a nutritious breakfast and lunch on those days.
Lowe said the program began college tours for the older students last year and continues them this year.
She said students have had the opportunity to visit the University of Alabama’s nursing school and the campus of Tuskegee University.
“We want to inspire these students to go to college,” Lowe said. “I hope that we are giving them lessons that will carry on through their lives.”
Lowe said the program does not teach religion, but teaches Godly values, respect for others and good manners.
Retired nurses, including Jimmie Leonard, teach the children hygience, washing their hands, coughing into their sleeves rather than on their hands, and get them moving in the morning with some exercise.
On June 27, Pastor Keith Dudley visited the program to talk to the boys about being young men.
The program, which meets from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday for three weeks in June and three weeks in July, offers many extras, but keeps a focus on the basics.
Mostella said the program has had many students who come back from one summer to the next.
She said she’s been able to see that the program has improved their school performance.
“Some of them will bring in their report cards to brag,” Mostella said. Mostella currently teaches in the Gadsden City School System, and she said she sees some of the children at school.
“I always ask about their grades,” she said.
Lowe is proud of the fact that the program has never had to charge students, other than a $5 application fee. She is appreciative of local churches, some local banks and individuals, including state Rep. Craig Ford and state Sen. Phil Williams, and state Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma who have helped support the program.
Lowe said there is one major fundraising for the program each year, and it will be coming up in a few weeks.