Enquirer Herald

Area schools reach students through unique programs

CLOVER -- Courtney Jones and Marcia Dickson, social workers for the Clover School District, said they see "a lot of problems" on a daily basis, which is why they have invested ample time in promoting a positive program called Lunch Buddies.

Clover School District developed Lunch Buddies as an outlet for students in need of extra attention. Dickson and Jones operate the program they say provides guidance to students.

"To spend time with another caring person gives that individual the opportunity to be the focus," Jones said. "And a lot of times, for the kids who are usually referred, they don't have that one-on-one attention or they may have it, but need a little bit more. And that's where our volunteers come in."

Lunch Buddies is in four Clover schools: Kinard, Bethel, Bethany and Griggs Road Elementary Schools. Dickson said they are not sure if the new Larne Elementary will have a Lunch Buddies program when it opens next fall. Students in kindergarten through fourth grade are allowed to have Lunch Buddies, while fifth graders will be added next year. The elementary school teachers refer students to the program and get written permission from the parents of the children.

The program asks for Clover community members to make 30 minute, biweekly appearances to spend lunch or recess with students. Lunch Buddies go through an orientation process with Clover School District Two before being assigned a child. And this year was the first time they did a background check on prospective Lunch Buddies.

Although the program is in its sixth year, it still needs help.

Program coordinators recruit area church and club members, along with retirees, at the beginning of each school year. Yet, the teachers referrals outnumber the volunteers. About 85 volunteers are active in the four schools but 30 more are needed to fill the void. With the shortages, priority is given to those who show the most need.

Dickson said a thin pool of volunteers have provided a constant challenge.

"Every year we have students that don't get a lunch buddy because we just don't have enough," she said. "We have a good many volunteers, but we just don't have enough.

"We have had some people that were very dedicated and had done this for several years and sometimes they can do it for some reason -- sickness, job change -- they just can't do it anymore."

Jones said it is not easy to turn a child in need away.

"For those who don't have volunteers, it is almost unfortunate," he said. "Because you wait and wait throughout the year for someone to become available."

That the children spend time with a mentor, or someone who can pose as a role model is one of the things Jones says he appreciates most about Lunch Buddies.

"They don't talk about anything specific," Jones said, "whether it's home or school, it's just the fact that that individual is there. And a lot of those kids don't have that connection with a person."

Dickson spoke about the benefits children gain from Lunch Buddies.

"It just seems to really boost their self esteem and encourage them," she said. "The Lunch Buddy just talks with them about anything, but they can really encourage them in their school work, behavior and support what the students are doing."

Joey Goforth, Killians Service Center clerk, has a buddy, with whom he has spent lunch time with for two years. He said he has seen a change in his buddy in the time he has visited.

"If I can help him in any way it's just a good feeling to know that you're helping somebody," Goforth said. "Last year, he had some discipline issues. This year, the first time I talked to him he hadn't been in trouble. If me going helps him, I'll go as long as I need to."

Jones said Lunch Buddies focuses on an education outside of the classroom that is vital to the future success of students.

"Given that we're social workers," he said, "we're understanding that education is, of course, the academics, but we're interested in educating that whole child through their social development and emotional connectedness."