Upon entering Oxford-University United Methodist Church on a Tuesday afternoon, you might think you have entered a madhouse full of first-, second- and third-graders.
But don’t worry. That’s just snack time.
Wait about half an hour, and you will see what really happens at the LeapFrog program. Local students who attend LeapFrog engage in tutoring focused on improving their reading comprehension and fostering relationships with tutors.
Every Monday through Thursday from 3 to 5:30 p.m., at-risk elementary school students from Oxford and Lafayette public schools load the bus and head to either OUUMC or St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for after-school tutoring.
They start with a snack and water while hanging out with their tutors and other volunteers. Then they get right down to business reading sight words and flash cards, working in phonics workbooks, and playing games that all help improve their reading comprehension skills.
They are also creating formative relationships with tutors. And as an added bonus, students have an enrichment hour during which they can play games and engage in special programs, such as First Regional Library’s Book Wagon or visits from groups like the Ghostlight Theatre group.
The mission of LeapFrog is to “provide a nurturing and loving environment to these at-risk students in such a place where they can succeed academically and create productive and ongoing relationships with adults,” said Director Teresa Adams.
Adams said the environment LeapFrog provides, and the positive reinforcement from volunteers to students is the most important part of what they do. “What these kids need is someone to look at them and listen to them for an hour,” Adams said.
LeapFrog began in 1990 as an outreach ministry at St. Peter’s and was inspired by a similar program in Clarksdale. The program started with only 12 second-graders from Oxford city schools and slowly evolved.
In 1996, they expanded their program to OUUMC, and in 2000, with 90 students, LeapFrog became its own entity separate from St. Peter’s. Adams took over in 2006 as director, and the program expanded to serve 50 more students, including third-graders.
With a background in education, Adams said the best part about her position is working with children. “In the 12 and half years I’ve been here, I’ve thought about getting another job, but I would miss these kids so much,” Adams said.
College students who volunteer with LeapFrog are an integral part of the program. Gesturing to the room full of students and tutors, Adams said, “The college students are amazing. There are 35 of them here today volunteering their time for an hour.”
Students are not the only ones who benefit. Volunteers get community service hours and the feeling they have impacted a young life in a positive way. “The best part about this position is watching the kids grow and learn and open up,” said volunteer Kayla White. “They care about their relationship with their tutor.”
White attended LeapFrog as an elementary student, so she has come full-circle. “It’s necessary,” she said. “It’s important that people volunteer and care about what they’re doing.”
Recruiting volunteers is a difficulty LeapFrog faces constantly. “They’re our strength and our weakness,” Adams said.
With one full-time employee and one part-time employee, there may be days when multiple volunteers are absent, so Adams and the lead volunteers must scramble to assign multiple students to one tutor.
With their new structured curriculum, Adams said it’s difficult to group kids together because they may not be on the same level as each other. Without adequate volunteers, the program cannot run smoothly.
As a nonprofit organization, LeapFrog relies mainly on grants from the Lafayette-Oxford-University United Way for funding. St. Peter’s and OUUMC also provide financial support and facilities for the program.
“Our budget is really tiny because we don’t pay for space, rent, or utilities, and we get a lot of things donated,” Adams said.
LeapFrog is also looking for sponsorship opportunities. “We need sponsorship,” White said. “We run off of donations.”
Community members can get involved by visiting their website. “We’ll be recruiting again later in the fall semester,” she said.
LeapFrog recruits volunteers from the community, but relies heavily on University of Mississippi students. Those interested may contact Adams via email. The program is also on Instagram and Facebook where they promote their events, fundraising, and other information.