In 2001, several community-minded volunteers, experienced in working with neighborhood at-risk children created Great Kids Explorer Club—an innovative early intervention program that targets at-risk students from kindergarten through fifth grade. The group sought to bridge the gaps they saw between the efforts of schools and parents and to address ongoing issues that impeded the success of the community’s children, especially the low income ones.
The goal was to develop a Volusia County net that would provide a sanctuary for children, helping them overcome their academic and personal challenges. To serve children in a way that creates and nurtures a desire to fully appreciate the value of education, and to motivate them to strive for their personal best. Great Kids takes a ‘holistic’ approach, focusing not only on academic improvements, but also on nurturing and mending the hearts of children, recognizes that each child has special talents, gifts, and a purpose. Knowing this, they believe that children don't have to "fall through the cracks," and that providing at-risk children with a "hand-up" helps not only them, but also their families, our schools, and ultimately our communities.
The organization has grown from a single site serving 20 some children to serving 187 last year in five program sites. Today Great Kids has a volunteer team of 70 people and serves as the catalyst in developing ‘community partnerships’. Great Kids is the lead agency and provides all the educational materials, supplies, training, procedures, leadership and monitoring. They collaborate with several of Volusia County schools through a unique partnership that allows them to work directly with the schools, receiving school input and guidance. Each partnering school’s Guidance Counselor oversees the referral and enrollment process and meets with Great Kids’ staff to develop an ‘Individual Student Plan’. The hosting church donates classroom space, snacks and gives financial support to the Great Kids organization. Volunteers are recruited from the hosting church as well as throughout the community utilizing such organizations as Kiwanis Clubs and local retired teacher’s organizations. All volunteers are well trained and are given a criminal background check. Other partners include organizations like The Daytona Beach Junior League and several other local businesses that work together during the Holiday season to provide food baskets, new clothes and toys.
Today, Great Kids continues to help Volusia County’s young children develop self-respect, a desire to do their best and the ability to deal positively with difficult issues they face now and in the future. The children earn better grades, become more confident and are better equipped to make healthy decisions. This is accomplished through positive reinforcement of good behavior, group activities and tutoring. The overarching education project is called “Bridges to Success” and is composed of two different programs that provide 2-6 hours of free assistance, including transportation, depending on the need of the child.
Life Skills Enrichment (mentoring) focuses on behavior and listening skills, while creating and nurturing a desire to fully appreciate the value of education. It is designed to motivate the children to strive for their personal best in all areas of their lives and to become independent learners. Study and life skills are taught in addition to small group tutoring. Moreover, this component addresses behavioral foundations for success for children who struggle in school due to negative behavior issues, lack of motivation and lack of study skills.
One-on-One Tutoring is offered to children who are failing or are performing below grade level in reading or math—two core subjects critical to academic success. This program provides each 1st-5th grade child 45 minute sessions of one-on-one tutoring, computer lab and small group study skill and homework instruction. In tandem, both programs work to improve the child academically, socially and emotionally.
The results are outstanding. Over the last three years Great Kids has increased its enrollment by 59%, 96% of the children served earned a final "C" or better in five or more subjects, 71% improved in behavior/personal development and 90% graduated to the next grade. In 2007, the Great Kids volunteer team earned the prestigious “Outstanding 2007 Volunteer of the Year” award in the category of Outstanding Education Volunteer Group. In addition, the organization received the “President’s Volunteer Service Award” from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.
Great Kids has also received proclamations from the cities of Holly Hill and Ormond Beach declaring them to be a vital part of the community. Plans for the future include becoming consultants and using Great Kids as a ‘model’ for the development of other Great Kids community programs. Together, we do make a difference building a brighter future for our children.