Austin College students volunteer in Sherman schools

A number of Austin College students spent much of Thursday donating their time and reading to students at a pair of Sherman ISD schools as part of AC’s annual JanServe event.

The college students started at Washington Elementary Thursday morning, reading books to students in the school’s cafeteria. They were joined by AC Coordinator of Volunteer Services Nancy Morgan, Chaplain John Williams and Austin College President Marjorie Hass.

“For me this is a double pleasure, because I’m getting to support a project sponsored by Austin College students and also getting a chance to work with our community school children,” Hass said.

This year’s JanServe event was organized by the school’s Service Station organization, which also took part in the Great Days of Service and Green Serve events throughout the year. Service Station co-chair Naureen Dharani explained that the service event is done every year during AC’s month-long JanTerm.

“Last year, we worked with the Sherman ISD schools on a different initiative,” the senior psychology student said. “It was more science related, but this year we talked with Nele Rogers, and she said they would like to do a reading initiative.”

Last year’s event had the college students teaching a science lesson to students at Piner Middle School and Dillingham Intermediate School. Rogers, the SISD director of Partners in Education, said last year’s service project was a success, but district officials felt reading might be a better fit this year.

“This year there are several new programs in the district, and one is the Power Reading Club at Neblett,” said Rogers, who is also director of the district’s Academic Center on Education-Sherman program. “The premise for that is basically, if we can help the students’ reading levels, they’re going to be able to read better, they’re going to be able to score better on reading tests and their grades. If you read better, then you’re going to do better overall.”

The AC students were at Washington until around lunchtime and then gathered in the Wright Campus Center at 3 p.m. to head over to Neblett Elementary and work with students in the ACES program there. Before they left, they were addressed by Sherman Mayor and AC Senior Associate Vice President Cary Wacker.

“I just want to say thanks, first of all, because I know a lot of time and thought have gone into organizing this day,” Wacker said. “And for all of you who are serving, it’s really great to see you because that’s one of the hallmarks of Austin College, what we do for the community. What you’re doing today is not just volunteerism. I like to think of it as civic engagement. It’s one of the most important facets of our society.”

The Service Station’s other co-chair — Michael Luk, a senior international economics and finance major — said the AC volunteers had to complete background checks before being allowed to work with students.

“We’ll be reading, and then the other people who haven’t passed the background check will be washing windows,” Luk said.

Rogers explained that it wasn’t necessarily that some students failed the background check, but didn’t complete it in time.

“We have very strict security protocol here at the district, so we required that they do the college student verification, and not all of the students were able to get that done, and us get that processed,” Rogers said.

Dharani said the enthusiasm about the project, both from her fellow students and the SISD students, was quite high.

“I really am happy that students respond so well to us because it’s really helping everyone,” Dharani said. “I think having the advantage of having a college student come in and interact with you gives them more hope for their future. I think it really encourages them for a higher education.”

Hass was as impressed with the students she read to Thursday morning as with the Austin College students who planned and organized the event itself.

“They’ve just been terrific,” Hass said of the Washington Elementary students. “I’ve been impressed with how engaged they are with the stories. These are clearly children who love books and the experience of being read to. They must have really good teachers because the students came very prepared for their experience.”