Shirley Hodapp, a retired schoolteacher, established the Lake City Little Gnat Clubhouse in 1995. The clubhouse, named after the school's mascot, started as a facility that prepared preschoolers for kindergarten. It has now expanded to include 90 kindergartners, first and second graders who are at-risk within the normal school curriculum.
Using a portable building donated by the Polk County School Board, Mrs. Hodapp and her volunteer staff of more than 40, use an educational program created by Mrs. Hodapp that develops language, cognitive and motor skills. Volunteers must take a 20-hour training course before becoming a clubhouse teacher. Parents of preschool-aged children are expected to accompany their children to the sessions, so they can be educated on how to encourage and help their child develop learning skills.
The impact on the community has been very positive. At-risk students who attend weekly sessions at the Little Gnat Clubhouse have shown improvement in their skills. Kindergarten teachers have reported no emotional adjustment problems in the students enrolled in the Little Gnat's programs.
Since 1996, the Little Gnats Clubhouse has hosted an orientation week of activities such as educational games and seminars on how to help children learn. This prepares students and parents for the transition into kindergarten. Mrs. Hodapp has persuaded community members and parents to become involved as program volunteers. Fifteen volunteers on a steering committee headed by Mrs. Hodapp make decisions on which way the program should head.
Mrs. Hodapp works 50 hours a week at the Little Gnats Clubhouse, teaching children and training parents and volunteers to work with the children. In addition, she has recently started a program called Baby Gnats, which deals with teaching parents how to help their children develop in the first stages of their lives.
Mrs. Hodapp annually receives a $5,000 grant from the school board to purchase yearly supplies.