A caravan of Theodore Jones Elementary teachers hit the nearby school neighborhoods on Wednesday to visit with students and their families as part of the Schoolin’ Summer reading program. 

The initiative was started by 36-year-old first-grade teacher Melissa Spence in 2018.

She told the Log Cabin Democrat she got the idea when a group of teachers were riding in a car and came upon a group of their students outside playing.

From that, discussion began among them regarding what it would be like to be able to say hi to their students during the summer months. Spence said there’s a disconnect during that time.

She said she liked that idea, but her teacher side desired a little more intention and interaction.

She took the idea to her principal, Tammy Woosley, who thought it was a good idea and helped provide a little more organization to the initiative. June 28, 2018 was their first time out on the road, hitting houses and neighborhoods they knew their kids lived, handing out a summer resource they could work on with their families at home, a treat that correlates and a free book to read.

Spence said the plans for this year were similar.

“We learned some things from last year as far as wanting to reach more kids and I definitely think we’ve already gotten off to a good start with that,” she said. 

Last June, the effort was less coordinated, most families unaware that the teachers would be out and about. This year, Spence said they handed out slips of paper at the end of the 2018-19 school year in May, encouraging families to sign up and confirm they wanted to participate. 

“We saw more kids this first time than we did [all] last year,” she said. 

Within their first two stops, they got to hug on students, see ones that had moved up to middle school and even had the change to meet a few that attended other schools in the Conway School District. 

“We don’t really get to see those kid that go to middle school that often now. But, they’re still apart of our TJ alumni, sort of, so that’s really nice to see,” Spence told the Log Cabin Democrat. 

She said in one of the same neighborhoods, they stumbled upon a group outside playing. Spence said none were from Theodore Jones so they got the opportunity to meet them and introduce themselves and even let them participate in the program. 

“They were really excited about the books and then the s’mores kit,” she said. “They immediately stared opening [them] and started reading their books and that was fun [to see].”

Next, they drove to an apartment complex. 

Spence said there, they knocked on one door and the Theodore Jones student came out and ended up going and grabbing his neighbors, who forgot to sign up.

“There were two more apartments, four more kids,” she said. “I loved that. That’s like a ripple effect.” 

In total, they made seven stops, four of which were ones that let the teachers know ahead of time. 

“That’s 100 percent success rate on reaching those students but it went even further,” Spence said. “I’m really proud and happy that we were able to see that many kids.” 

The first-grade teacher told the LCD after they were done on Wednesday, she received a message from one of the other volunteers. 

“Loved the excitement from the kids to see us,” Spence read out-loud. “Great memories. Something they will definitely remember.” 

Spence agreed. She said that’s what her favorite part about doing this is ... the looks on the faces of their students. 

“We’re not where we’re supposed to be, you know what I mean,” she said. “It’s like when you see your teacher at Walmart.”

Spence laughed and said they’re not used to seeing their teachers away from Theodore Jones or out of the classroom, especially not at their front door, let alone during the summer holiday.

“I know it means a lot to the kids,” she said. 

Spence said seeing the kids and being able to interact with them is what it’s all about. 

She said the added benefit is the school family being able to come together for the adventures as well. Spence said during the summer, not only do they miss their students, they miss each other as well.

Since she brought the idea to the forefront, she said she’s received nothing but support from the school community and even if someone can’t make it, they reach out and offer support in other various ways, which means the world to Spence, not to mention the encouragement she’s received from Woosley as well, the “leader of the school.” 

“She’s on the front lines with us,” Spence said. “She wants to be there. The support from the top down is just amazing.” 

In the next three weeks of the program, she said they hope to see more, including the nearly 25 or so additional families who opted in, and will continue to stop at other students’s houses they know of. 

“Knocking on the door ... they may or may not answer, we hope they will but we’re going to give it our best shot to get more than the original [number] that signed up,” Spence said. 

The teacher encouraged families to continue signing up by texting @schoolsinsu to 81010. After, Spence will reach out and get some information from them and that’s it, but did add they could also email their child’s teacher if they have contact or send a message through the school’s Facebook page too. 

“It’s super easy,” she said. “We want to see these kiddos for sure. We’ll do whatever we can to make it easy on the parent.” 

Spence also encouraged those who do the activities to post pictures or give feedback to the school’s Facebook website page. 

Future planned areas:

July 10 – Phonics and Fun Dip – Acklin Gap, Treasure Hills and Creekside areas.

July 17 – Math and Marshmallows – Beaverfork area, Rolling Hills, North Hills and Grandview Heights.

July 24 – Tales from the Jolly Ranch – Nichole’s Place, Rich Smith Lane and East German Lane areas.