A Team Approach
By Leigh Perkins Brown
They scurry out of yellow school buses, backpacks bulging, chatter rising, like
any ordinary group of schoolchildren. However, these youngsters represent a
school that is anything but ordinary. With a 23 percent homeless rate and more
than 83 percent of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, Fern Creek
Elementary School depends on support from the community to ensure the success
of its students. Since 2001, Rollins College has partnered with Fern Creek in a
long-term commitment that includes participation in one of the largest
mentorship programs in the district—one with 125 regular mentors, nearly half
of whom are Rollins students.
The Rollins community continues to find new ways to connect its own students to the little kids scurrying off the buses, with programs, events, and one-on-one relationships that range from mentoring to teaching Fern Creekers the finer points of improvisational theater.
Infusing the Fern Creek campus with Rollins expertise seems to be working. Eighty-five percent of Fern Creek students now score proficient in math and 77 percent in reading. The school has been ranked an A school for five of the last six years, which happens to be the exact era of Rollins’ involvement.
“We believe that while the Rollins community empowers Fern Creek students, Fern Creek is empowering our students too, helping them to deeply understand the pressing issues of the 21st century while they make lasting personal connections,” said Micki Meyer, director of community engagement. “They give us as much as we give them.”
Students in Director of Olin Library Jonathan Miller’s Rollins College Conference (RCC) course The Revolution Will Not Be Televised worked with a fourth-grade class at Fern Creek to help them improve their writing skills. Visiting once a week during the fall semester, the Rollins students contributed to improved FCAT scores. "I know our Rollins students helped the fourth graders,” Miller said, “but I am convinced that the experience benefited our Rollins students far more."
“My RCC, Making It Up As You Go Along, uses theatrical improvisation to teach students interpersonal, communication, and team-building skills,” Associate Professor of Theatre David Charles said. Charles brought his RCC students to Fern Creek to share some of these theater games and skills with three fourth-grade classes. “Our Rollins students performed small shows using improv games we've learned together, and then taught these same games to the Fern Creek students so that they could then perform for us.” The day was a great success, with students from both schools learning more about themselves, theater, and the art of working together.
Associate Professor of Computer Science Richard James’ Rollins RCC RoboTars taught first-year Rollins students to program robots. The Rollins students, in turn, taught Fern Creek students. “Three weeks after learning how to make their robot take a 90-degree turn to the right, they’re the experts,” said James. “And before you know it, the elementary school kids know what they’re doing and they become the experts.”
Turning on to Science
Students in Professor of Biology Eileen Gregory’s biology classes lead Fern Creek students in serious science experiments—extracting DNA from strawberries, for example. By all accounts, Gregory brought the Fern Creek partnership to life in 2005 with her Science Academy at Fern Creek. “Keeping kids interested in science is a collaborative effort,” she said.