This year’s SMILE program at St. Rest Baptist Church has been better than ever, expanding the number of children it served and the programs offered to students.
The church is about ready to put behind it another year as the Summer Motivational Intensive Learning Experience program comes to a close next week. Elena Black, director, says it’s been a wonderful year for the students.
“Our enrollment grew this year,” she said. “It grew from about 55 to about 83 this year. It’s been good. It really has. I think we did more with more resources in terms of experts coming in, so I think it was more valuable to the kids this year. We did more intense instruction this year.”
Through educational enrichment, the goal of the program is to help students keep up academically and have fun through the summer. Several volunteers have come in and spent time with the children exposing them to a wide variety of topics like drama, arts, music, mathematics and language.
“It’s to give the kids some positive thing to do during the summer rather than sitting around, and also we try to bridge the gap between regular school and going into the next school year, because they lose so much of that during these months,” she said.
They learned healthy hygiene, teeth brushing techniques, the importance of exercise and good foods to eat, and other important healthy habits.
E.S. Richardson Elementary principal Oreada Banks spoke to the children about getting the most out of education and Linda Hudson, with Webster Parish schools, spoke to the junior high students about preparing for high school and the new regulations.
Lessie Brown, a high school Spanish teacher, worked with kids of all age groups on Spanish lessons. Black says the younger children will sing a song in Spanish while the older ones will perform a dialogue in Spanish.
The kids also traveled to the Webster Parish Library once per week during the summer reading program, played games, went bowling, swimming, skating and went to the movies. They even learned how to line dance, Black said.
Black says along with all the fun the students were offered, volunteers worked one on one with some to help those who were struggling or may have been behind their grade level.
Jonquez Moore, assistant director, says this is the first year he’s participated in this capacity, but has been a volunteer for the last few years.
“It’s a learning experience,” he said. “(Last year) I taught the junior high group math and language. I’ve had parents come thank me from when I was teaching and tell me that I helped their child.”
The only hiccup they’ve had is transportation. This is the first year they’ve provided transportation to students in need to and from the B.F. Martin Community Life Center for SMILE. Black says with so many more children this year, field trips sometimes became an issue, but it was a good problem to have.
Also, throughout the program, the children were fed breakfast and lunch through Mt. Calm’s summer feeding program. The Rev. Ben Martin, pastor of St. Rest, says children ages 18 and under can be fed three square meals a day five days a week. With Mt. Calm offering breakfast and lunch free of charge, Greater St. Paul Baptist Church offers dinner.
“They’ve had that program for a long time,” he said. “That program helps to keep the cost of our program down, because we don’t have to factor in the cost of meals.”
SMILE has been offered to the area’s children for the last five to seven years, where some students have now become volunteers. The program is for children in grades kindergarten through eight.