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Mentoring helps students give back

CW Staff

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By Sarah Papadelias

The University has many different impacts on the greater Tuscaloosa community, and many students are striving to improve and strengthen this relationship as the University and city grow simultaneously.

There are a wide variety of student initiatives based on serving the Tuscaloosa community, and various projects have been created for Tuscaloosa County schools. The Honors College facilitates some of these initiatives focused on academic mentoring, arts and crafts and reading.

“We have a great partnership with the Tuscaloosa community,” said Kathryn Merritt, director of external relations for the Honors College. “We emphasize looking at specific needs, so that each outreach effort is crafted specifically to meet the needs of each school.”

This year, the Honors College is overseeing projects in ten Tuscaloosa County schools, ranging from elementary to high school.

READ Alabama, a literacy initiative, is one of the many outreach projects offered through the Honors College this year. Colby Leopard, the director of READ Alabama, said this program was started to help the community with the growing problem of illiteracy.

“One of READ’s most important missions is to show the Tuscaloosa community that we, as students, do care,” said Leopard. “We do want to be a part of actively improving the community as a whole.”

Angela Nelson, librarian at Hillcrest Middle School, said the effects of READ Alabama are already far-reaching.

“They have been reaching so many students,” Nelson said. “These are students who typically fall through the cracks when it comes to individual attention. The program has helped their grades and their confidence.”

In addition to the positive impact on her students, Nelson said the presence of college students in each of the schools is also extremely encouraging.

“A lot of these students don’t know a lot about college,” Nelson said. “A lot of them don’t aspire to go to college. University students serve as great role models for what they can do.”

The University’s presence in Tuscaloosa county schools has expanded exponentially in the past two years. In 2009, there were programs in two schools, but now there are projects in almost all of the county schools, Merritt said.

The Honors College is not the only facilitator for projects in county schools, however. There are a variety of mentoring programs offered through other student groups, such as greek organizations, honors societies and the Student Government Association. There are also active chapters of larger organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters, in the Tuscaloosa community.

University students participating in projects through the Honors College logged more than 9,400 community service hours during the fall 2010 semester, Merritt said.

“The need for these programs is there,” Merritt said. “The challenge then becomes expanding our infrastructure to make sure the integrity of every experience is maintained.”

Despite the perceived burden thousands of students may have on the community, there are many students looking to improve the Tuscaloosa community by reaching out to its schools.


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Mentoring helps students give back