Church hopes to raise grades

Children, from left, Elijah Brown, McKinley Wanzo, Malaysia Williams and Marliyah Hood listen as Pastor Josea Oatis reads from ‘Scooter Mouse and the Teddy Bears’ at Walker’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church.

Instead of reading tales of the gospel during Wednesday night’s Bible study, children at Walker’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church were immersed in tales about teddy bears.

Walker’s Chapel recently received donated copies of Alice Mitchell’s children’s book, “Scooter Mouse and the Teddy Bears,” as the church begins to step up its focus on meeting the educational needs of children in the community.

Janice Oatis, wife of Pastor Josea Oatis, is leading the effort.

“What we’re trying to do is increase the reading skills in the school district because you know, I think they’re at a D right now,” she said.

McComb schools, where most of the children who go to Walker’s Chapel attend, have a D rating.

Oatis said the church carries a lot of influence on families and the community and is in a good position to help.

“We’re going to be doing reading and math. We’re going to be doing homework tutoring,” she said. “We’re going to be doing a little bit more because our city, where we are, is a little impoverished unfortunately, so they don’t get the attention at home as far as help, and we want to be an outreach to our community. Not only do we want to be a spiritual impact to them, we want to be more of an academic.”

Oatis said Walker’s Chapel’s program is based on the IMPACT early childhood education program established by Jackson State University.

“We are definitely looking into the Impact Program out of Jackson because we do not have one in this area and they’re looking for people to kind of mirror what they do,” Oatis said. “We’re going to be sitting down next week, a few of us who are actually over the program, and be coming to the conclusion of if that’s what we want to do or if we want to branch out on our own.”

Oatis said children in city schools are capable of doing better than a collective D letter grade, but students in the majority-black, high-poverty school district face a lot of obstacles that more affluent students do not.

“The thing about it is we have smart kids, but the encouragement that they don’t have at home can be a hindrance to them,” she said. “We say, ‘We need your parents to be involved, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, my mama’s not coming.’

“That’s a hurdle because not a lot of them are involved in the school districts.”

Oatis said many parents have to work late at night and aren’t around as often as they need to be.

“I was one of those parents. I worked 12-hour shifts and I had to leave my kids, unfortunately, under the supervision of the oldest,” she said. “Now you’ve got this tension in the house when Mama’s not there, so what do you do?”

The church is trying to help with that, too, and plans on operating a summer and after-school program starting in June. For $25 a week, parents can bring their children to the church, which will provide supervision, tutoring, a reading program, homework help and music enrichment. Oatis said the church is seeking ways to offset the cost of the weekly $25 fee.

“We’re charging $25 for the after-school program and we know not everybody can afford it,” she said.

Oatis said church officials are developing activities and a curriculum.

“We’re going to have an outline of our curriculum. We’re going to present it to the McComb school board,” she said.

Oatis said the church has about 20 to 30 kids who attend weekly Bible study and another who how up to vacation Bible school over the course of one week during the summer, so it’s in a good position to make a positive impact.

“We’re going to emphasize more than we’re going to make an impact on your child. You’re going to see a difference. We’re not just babysitting,” she said. “I think that’ll be a good thing for the church and for the kids. It’s very much needed.”

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