Growing up in Arkansas, where summers were hot and humid and mosquitoes swarmed the streets like a plague, I longed for the cold snap that accompanied Christmas. It was the ’70s, and we could always count on downy seasonal snowfalls.
Every year, my friends and I would pray for snow days, when we could forget about school and go sledding, build igloos and launch all-out snowball wars. We lived to suit up in our overstuffed coats, bib pants and moon boots and wander the snow-packed streets like a roving band of misguided Eskimos. Who needs school, we scoffed, when we could make our homes in snowdrifts and live off snow ice cream?
Even now, as fresh powder blankets Kansas City, I long for those carefree days when school was cancelled. But then, I grew up in middle-class America. I had the luxury of blowing off school to pretend I was an arctic explorer trudging through a desolate landscape.
Now I realize how shortsighted I was. Each day I’m reminded that sponsored children don’t have the “privilege” of brushing off school to indulge in make-believe. Many are truly trapped in inhospitable environments, where they’re lucky to attend school rather than skip it. And education is often their only means of escape.
Even in my home state of Arkansas, where Children International has a sponsorship program in Little Rock, simply getting to – and staying in – school can be an arduous journey for boys and girls from impoverished households. But, thankfully, our education program stands out like a shining star that guides children in the direction of academic progress.
Little Rock is a particularly bright spot because we work in partnership with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and six public schools. That unique relationship connects sponsored children with college students and certified teachers who provide tutoring and other constructive activities during our after-school program, or Kids’ Club. Sponsored kids who would probably be home alone or out on the streets have the opportunity to participate in literacy workshops, computer classes, a chess club, art and dance activities.
“Everybody wants to be in it,” Renee Herd, one of our site coordinators, told me when I had a chance to see the Kids’ Club in action at Little Rock’s Bale Elementary School last year. That was great news considering that I had once heard the chancellor of UALR, Joel Anderson, say that 73 percent of the students in the after-school program showed improved performance in their schoolwork.
There are other highlights, too, like the college prep course we offer to graduating youth, the year-round GED, nutrition and computer classes for the parents of sponsored children, and educational summer camps to name a few.
Sponsorship really does provide so much more than school uniforms, supplies, access to scholarships and library resources…it gives underprivileged kids the perseverance to forge ahead, no matter what obstacles may come, and the power to believe that something more promising, maybe even dreamlike, lies just over the horizon.
Getting an education is the greatest adventure of their lives, and you’re the ones who are making it possible.
Posted on behalf of Damon Guinn.