Pride of the Pine Belt: Neighbors@ Hawkins Elementary - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Pride of the Pine Belt: Church program helps improve school standing

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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

Changes in education may start with lawmakers, teachers, but in Hattiesburg it's a church that's taking an active role in an elementary school.

Sharon Miles is a member of Ekklesia Church in Hattiesburg.

"When Ekklesia started five years ago they made a commitment, one, to pick a place that we would put our resources. We want to change the world of course, but we want to pick one place to pour all of our time and resources," said Sharon Miles.

The place that would reap the benefits of the resources is Hawkins Elementary.

"The purpose was if our church were to close it's doors that there would be one place in Hattiesburg that would know," said Miles.

Miles says hopefully Hawkins would notice, because of the major shift the church efforts have created.

"We have been present on this campus for five years, and we have seen them academically from a school that was, I think we were ranked as a failing school to currently listed as a successful school," said Miles.

Miles says Ekkleshia Church made the difference by creating Neighbors @ Hawkins, along with the efforts of teachers and administration.  

"It was a program that was designed to really be a liaison for the community to come in and serve here at Hawkins Elementary," said Miles.

Volunteers from churches and universities mentor and tutor 144 elementary students in school and after school. They also receive national help.

"Three years ago we entered into a partnership with America Reads Mississippi," said Miles.

Miles, who is also the programs coordinator of Neighbors @ Hawkins,  says thanks to America Reads Neighbors @ Hawkins was able to hire four full-time tutors to work with the kids at the school.

"Our focus was always literacy and reading. Some of our kids really excel in math, but they need that extra help to pull them up with reading comprehension," said Miles.

Jasmine Whiteside, is a student at Southern Miss and volunteer for Neighbors @ Hawkins. She says she sees first hand the impact the program has on a child's reading.

"There are definitely a lot of light bulbs going off when you are working with reading and comprehension," said Whiteside.

Assistant Principle Britaney Cheatham believes Neighbors @ Hawkins took the talk of wanting to be better, the ideal of it and made it a reality.

"They have help to drive our vision. We want all kids reading and writing at an above grade level. We want them to show respect for themselves and others. Neighbors @ Hawkins has provided a piece, a partnership that helps us to move forward," said Cheatham.

"You know successful isn't the top of the academic rankings, we are shooting for a star school," said Miles.