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Out of the box

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Without the social aspect of tutoring at Out of the Box, eighth and ninth graders from Carroll County Intermediate School might not spend an extra 90 minutes being so studious on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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The school system recently teamed up with community partner First United Methodist Church of Hillsville, using the church's youth ministry space set up in the Main Street storefront that formerly housed the Ben Franklin five and dime store.

Just as the church saw the need for a place where young people could socialize, educators felt the students would also benefit from that aspect of Out of the Box.

The Nintendo Wii video games on the big screen TV, the pool table, the foosball table, the Internet, the snacks, the couch and easy chairs — and the hour the students have to enjoy them — act as an incentive for participation, not only for the youths that get to study at Out of the Box but also those who meet with their tutors at the intermediate school first and join their peers for the social time at the end of the day.

First, though, last Tuesday, five students either sat around a table to discuss English literature concepts, or in the case of Geo Brown, concentrated on filling up a notebook page with a creative writing assignment about a creature that takes over peoples' bodies.

It was only his second time at Out of the Box, and Brown was sticking to a deal he made. "Well, my mom wants to see me get my grades up just a little bit."

So, on Tuesday he seeks help with English and on Thursday it's science.

Students have a choice of staying in the cafeteria for tutoring or going a few blocks down the street. For his part, Brown indicated that he wanted to be in different surroundings when possible.

The tutoring time seems fairly pleasant, he indicates. "It's pretty nice — people help you out and you get snacks."

At the next table, the students ask Hill, their tutor and also an English teacher at school, to continue going over the many literature ideas they need to know for the entire 90 minutes, instead of reading for half the time.

"Mood is the way a passage makes you feel when you read it," students and teacher agreed.

A symbol stands for a larger idea, like darkness meaning evil or light meaning good; a narrator in a story could be limited to the first person or it could be written in third person omniscient; an author could come out and state a theme in a text or let it be implied; repetition is, just like it sounds, repeating words or phrases for emphasis; rhythm is made up of the combination of accented and unaccented syllables; the setting is where and when a story takes place; conflict drives the tale; and so on the tutoring went.

The students can relax, munching or sipping away on snacks, and Hill feels she doesn't have to be as strict as in class.

She likes the afterschool program because it allows teachers to reach students they'd never get to tutor otherwise. It's a wonderful thing, Hill said.

Out of the Box provides the location, the snacks and the presence of an adult from 3:30 to 6 p.m. two days a week, said Ronnie Collins, the Methodist church's assistant pastor. Being someplace nice serves as a tutoring incentive for the youth.

By housing the tutoring sessions, Wednesday evening get-togethers, Sunday morning Bible study and Fifth Quarter activities after home football games, Out of the Box is becoming a fairly well-known place for youth, Collins said. Wednesday evenings could see up to 80 teens in attendance.

Collins is glad the church has become a community partner for the school program. They see it a part of their mission.

"It seems to be working well... the kids love it and from what I see the tutors like it, too," he said.

Since Out of the Box opened in October 2008, Collins said the mission has spent $10,000 downtown, mostly to provide pizza and other snacks.

That doesn't come from church members' tithes, but donations people give go above and beyond.

The ministry continues to look for new community partnerships and to add new efforts to create more opportunities for the youth, he said.

The collaboration arose as part of the 21st Century Learning Centers and the CASE program at the intermediate school, explained Mark Burnette, the school system's director of secondary education.

Afterschool programs like CASE fit with the goal of getting youth to stay in school and become successful after they graduate, he said.

"The kids like to go down there and have that socialization time and it's a safe, secure place to go," he noted. "It's basically just to provide a different type of environment for kids to participate in."

He appreciates the help provided by the church, especially as Out of the Box gets no funding from the school system for it.

Numbers gathered by Carroll schools about their on-time graduation rates indicate that these efforts are having an impact, Burnette said. On-time graduation rates have risen from about 77 percent for the division and about 79 percent for the high school to about 85 percent for the division and 86 percent at the high school.

Burnette believes those are the best statistics for a school system locally.

While the students in the CASE program would be considered at-risk for their scores in English and math, intermediate school Principal Chuck Thompson noted that afterschool participants are much more likely to continue on with their education.

Of those in CASE, 51 of 52 students have either graduated or are on track to graduate on time, the principal said.

"The bottom line is to see that our kids are successful, that they stay in school regardless of their circumstances and they go out into the world and are successful," Burnette said.