ALBANY, Ga. -- Bashful smiles and heartwarming stories were common at the Whiz Kids Graduation Celebration held recently for participating Magnolia Elementary School students at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Church members young and old voluntarily mentor and tutor "at risk" children determined by Magnolia teachers from kindergarten through third-grade for an hour on Wednesdays. The one-on-one tutoring helps the students improve not only academically, but also socially.
After the tutoring ends, students then attend a 15-minute religious service titled CLUB -- caring, loving, understanding, bonding -- in the church's chapel. Students sing and hear a message from Covenant Presbyterian Senior Pastor William "Biff" Coker.
Of the 29 students enrolled in Whiz Kids this year, 10 made the school's honor roll, Whiz Kids Director Lee Don said.
Lee County High School senior Haley Cimino tutored third-grader Joe White in her first-year participating in the program.
"Not only have I taught him something, he taught me something," she said as she explained Joe's improvement during the year to the crowd of parents and staff.
Tutor Joan Butcher told the audience that the program continues to improve.
"This is my fourth year with Whiz Kids and each year I think we can't do better and then we do," she said. Later Butcher said, "You parents should be proud of yourselves, you've raised some really good students and kids."
Coker and Don hope their successful Whiz Kids program will spur other churches to adopt the other 12 available elementary schools in the Dougherty County School System. Currently, Sunnyside Baptist sponsors Turner Elementary, Porterfield Memorial United Methodist sponsors Live Oak and First Free Will Baptist sponsors Sherwood Acres.
"It's going well and we're trying to spread it around town," Coker said after the graduation ceremony in which students received a certificate, medal and refreshments afterwards. "It's more than just tutoring, it's about building self-esteem, a relationship between a tutor and child, which generates a lot of loving feelings. This has a lot of residual effects because a lot of these kids will grow up and become Whiz Kids tutors, have stronger grades and grow up to be stronger citizens."
Travis Lampkin had his mother, Travia English, grandmother, Deborah Carlisle, and great-grandmother, Minnie Carlisle, attend the celebration event with him.
"I love it," Travia English said of Whiz Kids. "(I see) improvement, especially in reading."
Tom Law tutored Travis and said he enjoyed watching Travis grow over the last two years. However, Law said he was saddened that he wouldn't be able to continue tutoring Travis since he's transferring next year to Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts.
"He used to play games the first year, but now he likes to read," said Law, whose wife, Nan, also tutors. "Now, I have to take the book from him. (Before we start) I have to fuel him with a cookie because he can't operate without fuel."
Covenant Presbyterian Church member John Levie has observed the Whiz Kids program from afar, but has seen the results.
"You just don't know what this does for these kids," he said as children, tutors and parents visited. "It really helps a lot of them."
For more information about Whiz Kids, call Don at Covenant Presbyterian Church at (229) 436-5731.