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Augusta Chronicle: BELL Elevates Our Pupils

BELL elevates our pupils
Augusta Chronicle
http://chronicle.augusta.com/opinion/opinion-columns/2011-04-03/bell-elevates-our-pupils
By Earlene A. Gray, Guest Columnist
April 3, 2011

It is undeniably true that our city, Augusta, is among the most beautiful, especially in the spring. After a very harsh winter, we wholeheartedly welcome springtime in its entire splendor.

Each year our city takes exorbitant measures to usher in a special rite in which many of its citizens can fully participate. Her shoes are polished and shining with no visible signs of wear (improved roads); her hair is shiny, glossy and neatly styled for everyone to admire (well-manicured lawns and roadsides).

Her hair barrettes of white, red, pink and green enhance her look (groomed azaleas, camellias and dogwoods); her curves remain smooth and sleek in all the right places, assuring an almost flawless flow of traffic, especially in the most significant parts of town.

Restaurants and hotels hire extra staff to adorn their businesses to accommodate the masses that will soon descend upon this mecca called the Masters Tournament.

The city now awaits an onslaught of those who will chase little white balls in search of the much coveted green jacket. These are not ordinary people who will deplane from their own private aircrafts. They will bring millions of dollars to our city, and for that we are truly grateful.

Meanwhile, those of us who are indirectly involved will carry on our normal duties as ordinary citizens. Some of us will benefit from the charitable donations from this annual event. Again, our deepest gratitude.

THERE IS ANOTHER need within our community that would benefit others even more. This investment would help improve the academic lives of many students who are in much need of academic self-improvement. Public education is now underfunded and is being ferociously attacked by politicians, the media and communities.

The BELL program — Building Educated Leaders for Life — is an outstanding program that operated after school and during the summer in some Richmond County schools. The BELL Foundation is a nonprofit organization that partners with local school systems for financial and fiscal support. Student scholars have made great strides, as measured by frequent assessments, including the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

The program is in effect in six cities in the United States; how wonderful it would be if we could keep this program in this place that is filled with so much promise and hope. It targets at-risk scholars so they can achieve some measure of success, and possibly prevent them from a life of poor choices.

As a former teacher in this program, I saw how the extra help caused grades to improve. I knew that pupils had somewhere to go after school rather than hang out and possibly get into trouble. There was a genuine desire to lean more and to become better students.

THROUGH COLLABORATION and participation, I witnessed some self-esteem issues dissolve, as scholars became more confident in their abilities.

During the summer, I witnessed the excitement of these scholars as they learned non- academic skills through arts and crafts. Since many of these scholars were from single-parent homes, the presence of males in leadership positions was highly effective. Just their presence was a deterrent to adverse behavior. To quote a grandparent in my community, "It works, because I can see a difference in my grandson's progress."

I sincerely hope this program will be included among the area's much-needed charitable donations. An investment in education is vital for the future of all.

On a lighter note, I do enjoy hitting balls at the driving range. The fresh air, exercise and camaraderie are very therapeutic -- but the call of the Great Green Course so far this year continues to go unheeded.

Welcome to our fair city, golfers, families and fans!

(The writer is a retired educator. She lives in Augusta.)