This article originally appeared on AJC.com.
By H.M. Cauley
Anne Lovatt was a student at Roswell High when she started volunteering at Star House, a nonprofit that sponsors after-school programs with snacks, tutoring and activities at four of North Fulton’s most at-risk public schools. “I even started a group that went there when it was housed in a low-income apartment building,” she recalls.
Eleven years ago, Lovatt became a middle-years social studies teacher at High Meadows, an independent, progressive school in Roswell. About halfway through her tenure, she learned that Star House was still looking for volunteers. An eighth-grade group got involved in setting up a holiday “secret shop” for Star House kids, and when the organizing parent moved on, Lovatt stepped in and expanded the project by having fifth and sixth graders make cookies and wrap gifts.
“But we realized that the relationships were the most important piece,” she said. “We wanted our kids to know, understand and connect to these kids at Star House. Connecting them to the local community right outside the door is often hard to do, but we think it’s valuable.”
About four years ago, Lovatt approached Star House about having High Meadows eighth-graders tutor the younger students.
“They had a rule that only high schoolers could work with the Star House kids, but they had also seen what our eighth graders could do,” said Lovatt. “We have some pretty mature kids who want to make a difference.”
Lovatt got the green light to bring about 25 students to Mimosa Elementary in Roswell to work with Star House students there. For about 90 minutes, High Meadows students spend time on homework, reading, math and having fun with the youngsters.
“This is not just tutoring,” said Lovatt. “It’s kids helping kids, and our students are empowered knowing they can teach someone else.”
Monica Oliveira, Star House executive director, said having the eighth graders spend time with the younger set has had a direct impact in the elementary classrooms.
“We’ve learned that from the educators who tell us they’ve seen improvements attributed to the relationships they’ve built with High Meadows,” she said. “But it’s also helping our students develop self-esteem. They’ve built peer relations and formed meaningful bonds that have made them more confident.”
High Meadows eighth-grader Lily Williams volunteered to work with Star House after hearing about the positive experiences her sister had two years ago.
“And I enjoy working with kids,” said the 13-year-old from Roswell. “I’ve read with them. They’ve read to me. I help them with words they’re struggling with. But best of all, I’ve formed a bond with one fourth-grade girl who opened up to me about what’s going on in her personal and school life. It’s been so interesting to see how other people live so close to where I do.”
Now in its 25th year, Star House works with about 300 students annually at Elkins Pointe and Holcomb Bridge middle schools, and their feeder schools, Mimosa and Esther Jackson elementaries.
“At the end of the day, the students walk down the hall and come to us,” said Oliveira. “It’s a home-away-from-home for these kids. We have snacks, recreation and homework time. We’re very concentrated on tutoring, mentoring and study skills. And we sponsor summer enrichment programs.”
But, Oliveira notes, the peer-to-peer tutoring has proved the most impactful, as well as rewarding for both groups of students.
“It’s a prime example,” she said, “of what these sorts of collaborations can do.”
Information about Star House Foundation: starhousefoundation.org.
Details about High Meadows: highmeadows.org.