“I can’t do it,” says Maynard to Crystal Davis, the Children First/CIS (CF/CIS) Parent Involvement Coordinator at the CF/CIS Learning Center at Deaverview. Maynard is in the first grade, and is having a challenging time with his reading and spelling. He often gives up before he even starts trying to sound out the words and letters.
“I want you to change ‘I cannot’ to ‘I can,’” Crystal says to Maynard. He scrunches up his face in a perplexed way and thinks about what she has just said. They continue working on his homework, and she sees that he is starting to get frustrated.
“I can’t….” he stops himself and looks at Crystal. “I can do this if I think about it,” Maynard says with a grin, and begins slowly sounding out the words. He gets every word right.
Ms. Jetta and Ms. Crystal, as the children call them, are the Parent Involvement Coordinators for the Children First/CIS Learning Centers at Deaverview and Pisgah View. A program of Children First/CIS (CF/CIS), in partnership with the Housing Authority of Asheville, the Learning Centers are a safe-haven afterschool program located on site and provided at no cost to families living in the low-income housing communities of Deaverview, Pisgah View and Woodridge.
In the afternoons, the children come charging up the parking lot bursting into the CF/CIS Learning Centers full of questions, proclamations and hugs, and Crystal and Jetta are waiting for them. Together with the other Learning Center staff members, they manage the bustling hive of energy that is the after-school learning center. They prepare healthy snacks, answer questions, give out hugs, and find out how the children’s day was spent. After the children have eaten their healthy snack, it’s homework time , as the children break into small groups and work with staff and volunteers. Homework time is followed by the enrichment activity -- anything from playing soccer to arts and crafts to drumming and hip-hop dancing.
The children enrolled in the Learning Centers get a healthy snack, homework help, enrichment activities, and something else: the consistent, caring presence of a caring adult. Research shows that a relationship with a caring adult in a child’s early years is associated in later life with better academic grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions, and an increased ability to cope with stress. “Jetta and Crystal have made a tremendous difference in the lives of the children and families they work with,” says their supervisor, Children First/CIS Learning Center Coordinator, Barbara Norton.
Their mornings are spent working with the families of the children enrolled at the Learning Centers. “They really care about every family they are working with, and many times, they will come up to me and tell me what is going on in the lives of the children and families, so we can help fill in any gaps,” says Barbara. “They are really connected to the families.” They plan parent workshops on everything from healthy cooking, to organizing your home, to how to create a family budget.
Jetta and Crystal have lived or are currently living in the Pisgah View and Deaverview communities, which allows them the unique opportunity to relate to the families with whom they work and form strong relationships with the families both during and after program hours. Because of these strong relationships, not only are they able to help fulfill the needs of the families, but they are also able to enlist the parents to volunteer at the Learning Centers. Last year, 100% of parents volunteered a total of 542 hours at the Learning Centers.
“Jetta has brought a lot of structure to the children’s lives,” says Cicely Rogers, a parent from the CF/CIS Pisgah View Learning Center. “My son was a good student, but now he has a routine. Even on the days when he’s not at the learning center, he comes home, does his homework and then goes out to play. Ms. Jetta taught him that."
Jason Lasitter and his wife enrolled three of their children into the CF/CIS Learning Center at Deaverview. “Ms. Crystal is a great person and does great work. I have never heard a complaint from any of my children. They get home from the learning center and their homework is done, their reading is done. Ms. Crystal not only keeps us informed by sending us flyers, but she will come to our apartment and talk to us personally. She gets a lot done and they have fun!”
“I love my job,” says Jetta. “I feel like I am making a difference in the lives of the children and families I work with. My goal is for every child at the CF/CIS Learning Center at Pisgah View to be the best person they can be. I have a strong relationship with the parents, and they work really hard to make positive changes in their lives. I love the connection I have with them and the shared goal we have of making their children successful.”
“I love working with the children,” says Crystal. “I get the opportunity to understand a part of them [at the after-school Learning Centers] that their parents don’t always get to see,” says Crystal. “I feel so fortunate to be able to share that information with the parents. I have a great relationship with the parents as well, and I love showing them that it’s never too late to grow, learn and succeed.”
Children First/CIS Parent Involvement Coordinator Crystal Davis gets a welcoming hug from some of the children enrolled in the Children First/CIS Learning Center at Deaverview.
Children First/CIS Parent Involvement Coordinator Crystal Davis helps a child with his homework at the Children First/CIS Learning Center at Deaverview.
Children First/CIS Parent Involvement Coordinator Jetta Redmond poses with Cicely Rogers, the parent of a child enrolled in the Children First/CIS Learning Center at Pisgah View.
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