Every Wednesday, 27 children eagerly arrive in the Chambers School Cafeteria to begin what they’ve dubbed “Fun Day.”

The students, grades K-4, are all receiving academic support as English Language Learners (ELLs). UIDN and St. John’s Episcopal Church initiated this program in cooperation with administrators at Chambers Elementary and with the support of the Kingston City School District.

Chambers was chosen for the program because it has a sizable ELL population with no free after school option, unlike George Washington and Kennedy.

Kim Touchette

The program is an “enriched” experience for the children because of the caring commitment and expertise of our volunteer tutors, including several retired educators with backgrounds in Literacy, Special Education, and Art Education. These volunteers helped design a program to meet a number of objectives: improving reading and writing skills (and offering homework assistance when needed), social and emotional learning, and creative expression. Other volunteer tutors come from a variety of backgrounds, including a junior and a senior from area high schools. All are genuinely interested in the wellbeing and growth of the children who, in turn, relish the attention they get from their tutors.

The children, in three groups based on age and grade, circulate through three structured experiences in different learning spaces: literacy activities for academic growth; games and building activities, e.g., trains, Legos, for social and emotional learning; and creative expression such as art projects, salsa dancing, and improvisation. Volunteers tailor these experiences to meet the children’s needs, as English language learners and as unique individuals. Tutors and children are forming bonds, and the children get along well with one another.

The Wednesday program kicks off with healthy snacks, followed by outdoor play.  Karma, a gorgeous golden retriever therapy dog, comes to each “Fun Day,” thanks to his generous owner, one of our special educator volunteer tutors.  Karma plays Frisbee with the children and rolls over to have his silky fur patted by any child, especially one who is having a bad day.

When parents, aunts and uncles arrive at the end of “Fun Day,” the children are eager to share their art project or show them the story they wrote, the book they read, or the game they mastered.  The families know this is a UIDN/St. John’s Episcopal Church After School Program designed especially with their children in mind.  The message is strong and clear: we value you and your children, and we’re pleased you’re a part of this community.  Our smiles say it all.

If you enjoy working with young children and would like to join a cooperative and creative team of volunteer tutors, please fill out this volunteer form and indicate your interest. We know volunteers are busy people and not always able each week and that some even escape the weather for a part of the winter. If you’re interested, please consider volunteering when you are in the area and can commit to one or two Wednesdays a month, which would give you and the children a chance to get to know one another.

More experienced volunteers are pleased to assist and support new tutors. As volunteers for the Kingston City Schools, we all fill out forms and submit references to the District as well as take some child safety training required by all who work with children under the auspices of St. John’s Episcopal Church.