Students at Macon Early College are especially geared toward community service projects. While the unique school offers students the opportunity to get two free years of college education while still in high school, it does come with a cost, a cost the students don't mind at all.
Students at MEC are responsible for completing a number of community service hours as a way of paying it forward. "The students here are given the gift of a two year college education, so they look at community service projects as a way to give back and thank the community for making a difference in their lives," said MEC teacher Nancy Ritter.
One student-led initiative at MEC has formed a group called "Kids4Kids" and has dedicated their time to helping other children in the Macon County School System learn to read. According to MEC student Noah Miller, his class has set out to collect books within the community and donate them to children in kindergarten through fourth grade. In addition to collecting books to give out, Kids4Kids goes into elementary schools and reads one on one with individual students. "We are helping to inspire literacy in the county schools," said Miller. "We have a chance to read one on one or one on two with kids and give them special individualized attention that they may not otherwise get in a classroom setting.”
Kids4Kids goes to East Franklin Elementary nearly every Friday and works with classroom teachers to read to students. With the success of the program thus far, Ritter said the students at MEC have already begun working on ways to expand the program and partner with other elementary schools.
The students read age appropriate books selected by the classroom teachers, whose topics so far have ranged from trains to dinosaurs. MEC student Oscar Hernandez said that he enjoys the opportunity to be a role model for the younger students he meets. "I think about how the kids I read to look up to me and can look at me as an older brother, if they don't already have one," said Hernandez. "It makes me feel good to know that I am making a difference in their lives."
Hernandez' classmate Samantha Lannuzzi said that her favorite part of Kids4Kids is the opportunity to helps students who use English as a second language. "Literacy should be the focus of all early education and I believe that in some cases there is a lack of teaching for children who use English as a second language," said Lannuzzi. "It is hard for teachers to spend specialized time with those students, so when we go in and read to them it helps them learn to read."
In a little more than a month, Kids4Kids has collected 200 books that will be given to East Franklin for distribution. The group has drop-off boxes at Southwestern Community College, The Macon County Public Library and at Macon Early College. Books that are collected that may not fit the kindergarten to fourth grade age range are donated to Read2Me, which focuses on children age birth to kindergarten.
"I believe this program is important for students at school because they can see that they are making a difference in their community," said Ritter. "The fact that this is a student-led effort, makes the program work. The students identified a need to make literacy a priority and they wanted to work to make a change."