- Associated Press - Sunday, February 18, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Tutoring children who live at The Boulevard Townhomes isn’t how former teachers Laurie Farrell, Pat Ryan, Sue Manson, Linda Cox, Sue Hage or Monica Davis envisioned their retirement.

But spending two hours on Tuesday afternoons, the teachers said, has helped them rediscover why they fell in love with teaching in the first place - helping kids.

“I like working with children,” said Farrell, who retired from Springfield Public Schools in 2000. “I know they need that one-on-one attention.”

Since the start of this school year, Farrell said, the teachers - four retired from Springfield Public Schools and two from southern Illinois - volunteer their time to tutor 10 to 11 Lindsay Elementary School students each week in the main office of The Boulevard Townhomes.

The sessions begin with one of the teachers reading a book, followed by a healthy snack. The students then break off by grade level and work with a teacher on their homework, reading or math skills.

On Jan. 30, Lindsay kindergartners Desmond Johnson and Jerry Pitts read words aloud on flash cards made by Sue Manson, a retired District 186 teacher.

Manson then pulled out a game where Johnson and Pitts roll dice, add the totals and scoot their markers forward when the total matched a number on the board. Johnson and Pitts immediately got competitive when the counting game started.

“Bye, bye,” Johnson teased as he moved his marker forward.

What makes the program unique, Farrell and the other teachers said, is the students receive individualized attention.

The group also coordinates their efforts with the students’ teachers at Lindsay to focus on areas the students need extra help with.

DeShawn Roper, a fifth-grader at Lindsay, said the teachers recently helped him with a speech he gave to his classmates on wind energy. Thanks to their help, he memorized the speech and got an A-plus, he said.

“I have progressed with my writing and math,” Roper said.Linda Cox, who retired in 2001 from teaching at a southern Illinois school district before moving to Springfield, said she thought her teaching days were over before Farrell asked her to help.

But once she started working one-on-one with the students, she rediscovered her passion for helping them, she said.

It also helps, retired teacher Pat Ryan noted, that everyone gets along, and can put their egos aside and show up each week ready to help children.

“It’s just a really nice atmosphere and has been so rewarding,” said Ryan, who also moved to Springfield after retiring from a school district in southern Illinois.

While they don’t have hard data monitoring student progress, each teacher said they can see the students improving each week.

The students, the teachers said, get off the school bus excited and ready to learn.

“I can just see it on their faces,” Ryan said.

The Boulevard Townhomes is part of Lindsay’s boundaries, even though the school is located on Springfield’s west side.

The complex, formerly known as MacArthur Park Apartments, was considered one of Springfield’s most troubled housing complexes before the city cracked down on the previous owners for numerous code violations.

It was sold in 2015 to Kansas-based Cohen-Esrey Affordable Partners, which invested approximately $18 million to repair both the apartments and the area’s reputation.

According to the apartment’s website, the complex accepts Section 8 vouchers and income restrictions apply.

Tenants are screened, and the rent went up from $400 to $500 per month to around $700 a month, depending on the resident and unit type, according to State Journal-Register archives.

Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin, who represents the area, last year called the renovations a “massive transformation inside and out.”

Farrell said it was the MacArthur Boulevard Association that suggested an initiative to help children. Two years ago, she started a book drive and held some tutoring sessions with children living at the complex.

But the effort was short lived due to extensive renovations at the complex. Those sessions also were more informal and included children of all ages, making them less effective, she added.

Not wanting to give up on the idea, Farrell recruited retired teachers she knew and narrowed the program to elementary children. The program also is more structured now, and parents have to sign an agreement to increase buy-in.

The group is supported by the apartments’ owners, who provide funds for snacks each week, Farrell added.

According to Ryan, the after-school program has turned into something both the teachers and students are proud of and look forward to each week.

“It’s like a family in here,” she said.

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Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, http://bit.ly/2GzkZnY

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com


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