Teresa Searcy, who grew up in the neighborhood around William Wells Brown Elementary School, is one of several volunteers who are part of the United Way of the Bluegrass's effort to raise student achievement at the school.
"I could see that they needed a little help, and I could spare the time," said Searcy, who has a degree in education and is retired from Legal Aid of the Bluegrass.
Searcy said she wanted to join the United Way's initiative to bring in 400 adult volunteers to mentor students at the school east of downtown Lexington. Test results released in October showed that for the 2013-14 school year, William Wells Brown had the lowest score among elementary schools in Kentucky's testing and accountability program. It scored 34.4 out of a possible 100.
Gary Cremeans, United Way volunteer engagement manager, said more volunteers are needed. He said volunteers are coming from all walks of life, "which is great because we want that sort of breadth and depth of experience for the kids. We have folks in the business community. We have retired teachers. It covers the gamut."
The United Way's goal is to help raise test scores and provide services for students. It also hopes to raise an awareness in the community "that schools need people and are open to having folks in the community come in and work with kids," Cremeans said.
He said 64 United Way volunteers have been trained for William Wells Brown with the help of Fayette County school officials. That training involves a one-hour session.
Some United Way volunteers, including Searcy, are working in the classroom with teachers.
Searcy said she helped some students with a reading lesson.
Others are helping after school through the 21st Century federal grant program.
"It gives our children the opportunity to see people from diverse backgrounds and different careers ... and gives the community a chance to see the great things our students are doing," said Katie Washington, the 21st Century program manager.
Other volunteers are helping in a program called Reading, Writing and Rewards, sponsored and managed by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity members and alumni. Students receive free books and writing supplies and earn "Alpha bucks" to trade for prizes.
Former teacher Becci Ray is one of the United Way volunteers helping in the Alpha Phi Alpha program. She volunteered at William Wells Brown for the first time last Thursday and helped a girl read a book.
"I'd like to see if I can be part of helping kids learn that reading is a great thing," Ray said.
Judy Clabes, editor and publisher of KyForward.com, an online newspaper, also is volunteering.
On Tuesday after school, Clabes gave students press passes and reporters' notebooks as she and other volunteers helped them work on the WWB Times, a student newspaper.
Clabes said that when she heard about the United Way's effort, "I suggested that one way I could contribute was to start a school newspaper. I think there is no better way to get kids involved than through a school newspaper.''
Clabes said the students learn reading, writing and communication skills as they interview people at the school and write articles. She talked to them about how important it is for reporters to listen, to be accurate and to maintain a certain standard of behavior.
On Tuesday, several children wanted to know when they would get disposable cameras so they could start shooting photographs.
"They are all very bright kids," she said.
Bill Farmer, president of the United Way of the Bluegrass, said efforts from volunteers "allow us to be creative in teaching kids."
Cremeans said the United Way's goal is to have 100 volunteers at William Wells Brown by the beginning of the 2015-16 school year in addition to volunteers who were there before the United Way became involved.
The United Way is just starting to have to recruit people to help the school. Since October, most people had contacted the United Way.
Alice Nelson, a family and community liaison for Fayette County Public Schools, said even though the United Way effort is just getting started, "I've been truly moved by the commitment of the people that are choosing to come and do this, that really want to come and find a way to connect with children and help children."
Although the school had volunteers before, many students were being mentored in groups. The United Way effort has allowed more students to get one-on-one attention.
Principal Jay Jones said he thought the volunteer effort has helped students and has helped to support the staff.
"It's just been a real blessing," he said. "The United Way of the Bluegrass has done a good job of working with the school and with district staff to train the volunteers and to get them trained according to their skill set."
Farmer said the United Way's work with William Wells Brown "is just the beginning."
He said Fayette County has several other schools struggling with academic performance who need volunteers. The school district is conducting an inventory of those needs.
"We are beginning to look at the next school," Farmer said.