Tucked back into an apartment clubhouse on the east side of Franklin is a refuge.
Every Wednesday during the summer and on Fridays during the school year, more than a dozen students at Franklin Cove Apartments gather to be part of a community.
A literacy coach at Needham Elementary School reads them a story. Volunteers from a local church grill hot dogs outside the clubhouse. They make a craft with teacher volunteers from their school and munch on homemade cookies.
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Their activities are the result of a grassroots effort by educators at Needham Elementary School to meet students where they are, in the community where they live, in a program called Cove Connection.
What started as a preschool story time at Needham has evolved into a community event for young residents at the apartment complex.
Melissa Henderson, Title I literacy coach at the school, started the preschool story time in 2012 at the school. Teaching students how to read became her priority.
“If you can read, it opens the door to everything,” she said.
Parents brought their toddlers and students to hear the stories. But, Henderson decided that those students weren’t the ones that needed outreach and help from the school.
“You would get the parents involved in everything; we wanted to reach out to those who couldn’t go,” she said.
In fall of 2013 she and Jennifer Ridge, a counselor, started a book club for youngsters at the apartment complex’s clubhouse.
Residents and parents of children at Franklin Cove Apartments have a hard time making it to school events, Ridge and Henderson said.
For example, some of them don’t own cars and couldn’t get their children to extra events or didn’t have time to make the trip to the school.
The women decided that Franklin Cove Apartments would be the perfect place for their outreach program.
“This community has a lot of barriers; we wanted to bring a program to them,” Ridge said.
Their effort started slow.
Only four to six students were showing up for the weekly event. Educators got to work earning the trust of the community and getting the word out.
They climbed the stairs of the apartment buildings, knocking on doors and handing out fliers. Teachers began mentioning the program to their students. Franklin schools opened a summer feeding site at the complex’s clubhouse.
Soon, 12 to 15 students were going to the literacy program. Some weeks, more than 20 attend.
Parents began to trust the educators who were in their clubhouse every week and other volunteers in the city wanted to get involved.
Story time evolved into other activities to go with the literacy aspect of the program. Firefighters visited and talked about fire safety. People made presentations on recycling. Library employees began putting on some of their summer programs for the students. Grace United Methodist Church presented a version of vacation Bible school.
Their program became more than about supplementing literacy in under served students. They began connecting parents and students to their schools.
“To me, the huge theme of this is, ‘It’s starting to take off,’” Ridge said.
Part of the success has been connecting with the parents, Ridge and Henderson said.
They started a portion of the connection with moms in the apartment complex who can get advice from educators. They have helped moms learn how to read their students’ ISTEP scores and acted as a liaison between the parents and school, Ridge said.
Parents from the complex began volunteering to help clean up after the event and to help watch the kids while the event was going on.
The Cove Connection has been invaluable for parents with children in the apartment complex, parent volunteer Kathy Dodson said.
“It gets kids out and teaches them more,” she said.