Beginning this week, Mount Marion Elementary School will become not only a place for learning but also for discovery, as it initiates the Discovery Program, an after-school enrichment opportunity. Approximately 85 students have signed up the program, which includes four to six weekly classes on topics ranging from cupcake decorating to basketball to music for a small fee.
PTA president Carmelina DeWitt, who chairs the program, says the main purpose of the program is what the name entails. “How can a person know that they love to sew if they’ve never tried?” she asked. “How can people know they love basketball if they are never given the chance to play? We try to give that chance through Discover.”
DeWitt grew up participating in a similar program. The memory has stayed with her into adulthood. She sees a connection between what students find interest in and their future opportunities. Participation, she said, “may spark interest in something that they will pursue and continue to enjoy later in life.”
Beyond discovering their own talents and interests, the students who participate make connections with their peers as well as with community businesspeople. Local business owners, including Dustin Bryant, the owner of Planet Woodstock, and Rodney Batista of Triumph Karate, have been generous with donating their skills and time. Just like the students, the volunteers get benefits from participating. DeWitt says they love working with children, seeing their excitement. Many come back year after year.
Volunteer involvement can be flexible to suit the instructor’s needs. The volunteers get to choose the age range of the students they will teach and with how many children they would like to work. They also get to choose the length of their participation. Sometimes, according to DeWitt, “classes start at four weeks, and the students and volunteer are having so much fun that they decide to extend it out for another two weeks.”
DeWitt, who originally started out as a volunteer, should know. After teaching a storytelling and paper-dollmaking class for students in kindergarten through second grade four years ago, she wanted to become more involved. “The kids had a blast developing their stories and then creating paper dolls and making clothes for those dolls,” she said. “It was in the conclusion of my fourth class when I let the students go home and I was cleaning up that I knew that I needed to keep this program going.”
Another PTA mom, Melinda France, was ready to step down from leading the program and needed someone to take over. DeWitt was happy to step up.
Though DeWitt says she would love to see the program implemented at all elementary schools, she acknowledges that it is a tremendous amount of work. “The program requires a lot of organization and coordination between the school and the volunteers and the program chair pulling everything together so that it all runs smoothly,” she said. She appreciates that “the school really comes together as a community to make this happen.”