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 with a long-term commitment that includes participating in one of the largest mentorship programs in the district – with 125 regular mentors, nearly half of whom are Rollins students.
In fact, you’ll find at least one person from the College on-site at Fern Creek nearly every day. It’s one of the reasons why Fern Creek credits Rollins with helping elevate it from a “C”-rated school to “A” status over the course of the partnership. From on-campus college visits to helping develop a new science lab to teaching robotics to painting classrooms to donating more than 1,000 books to the library, Rollins is intrinsically involved in all aspects of school life.
“The impact of this collaborative effort goes beyond the donations and mentors,” said Fern Creek Principal Patrick Galatowitsch. “It is truly an inseparable partnership, teaching everyone that community service is a life-long commitment, and reinforcing the Rollins mission of building responsible global citizens.”
Rollins also hosts the bi-annual Pathways to College Day, inviting all Fern Creek students to reframe their mindset from thinking, “Will I go to college?” to “Where will I go to college?” Wearing shirts boasting “Future College Graduate,” the children take campus tours, meet students and faculty and attend a variety of classes featuring “university” activities geared to elementary students.
The partnership began nearly nine years ago when Professor of Biology Eileen Gregory was researching why science and math was critical in helping elementary students succeed later on, especially in areas where children are underserved and higher risk. Research shows that a child who graduates from college with a degree in math or science is more likely to break the poverty cycle for his/her family.
“Since Fern Creek was lacking parent volunteers to help with academic initiatives and improvements, Rollins was able to help fill this void,” said Holly Vanture, president of the Fern Creek Elementary School Foundation.
For that reason, Gregory helped create Fern Creek’s Science Academy, a program designed to increase students’ exposure to science. The Academy spawned “Science Night,” a program where nearly 100 Fern Creek students, parents and Rollins volunteers regularly participate in after-school science activities and experiments.
Fern Creek has indeed benefited from this long-term partnership, but Micki Meyer, director of community engagement at Rollins, is quick to point out that the College has been equally impacted.
“Many Rollins students who have participated in these service-learning projects have been inspired to work in education,” said Meyer. “Some of our students now work full-time at Fern Creek.” Among them: Suzy Plott, who currently serves as community and mentor coordinator at the elementary school.
Principal Galatowitsch and Meyer say this collaboration is a good example of taking full advantage of economically feasible options to help local schools.
“In tough times, it’s critical to find interesting and creative ways to share resources with public schools,” added Meyer. “Human-to-human connections are free – all it takes is time, willingness to partner, and shared learning at the center.”
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