Boys & Girls Club builds community

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Fourth-grade teaches you a lot. Repeating fourth-grade when you are 24 teaches you even more. My lesson for this week &8212; don&8217;t stand in a gym full of children and basketballs with your hands in your pockets.

My official initiation into the McLaurin branch of the Boys & Girls Club happened quickly Monday afternoon when I got smacked in the face with a basketball. It&8217;s OK; my nose broke the majority of the blow.

As I&8217;ve spent a lifetime telling people, being tall doesn&8217;t mean you are automatically a basketball star. (Monday wasn&8217;t the first time I&8217;ve been hit in the face with one, and I&8217;m sure it won&8217;t be the last.)

Email newsletter signup

But prior to the close-up with the ball, I was living up to my height. I challenged a group of fourth-grade girls &8212;including Ayana, Nyelah and Sidney from Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s class &8212; to a basketball game of horse. I quickly got an H and an O, while the girls dropped brick after brick.

Ayana &8212; the shortest player &8212; caught up with me, and we both made it to R after a few missed shots. I started to feel the pressure and missed another one. Luckily, I was saved the embarrassment of being beat by a fourth-grader when the teacher called everyone to lineup.

The Boys & Girls Club has been at McLaurin (and Morgantown Elementary) for two years now. There&8217;s still the main club at Thompson School as well. When the school-site satellite campuses opened, the club got overwhelming response from parents who wanted their children to attend.

Now McLaurin&8217;s club has about 300 members and about 100 students on any given day from school dismissal to around 6 p.m. About 10 of Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s students are club members.

Once all the bus riders leave for the day, club members rotate through free time in the gym, snack, homework time, additional class work and more gym time. It&8217;s loose enough that the kids don&8217;t feel like they are still in school but structured enough that homework really gets done.

Boys & Girls Club teachers are regular McLaurin teachers who&8217;ve signed on for the extra work (and an extra pay check).

Students spend about 30 minutes with a reading teacher doing reading and language work, then go to a math teacher &8212; just like they do during the day. In addition to completing homework assignments and studying for upcoming tests, the students in Aquetta Butler&8217;s class Monday were working through reading computer games. (Try

Boys & Girls Club classes are smaller &8212; about 10 students &8212; and the teacher does more one-on-one work. Butler walked around, answered homework questions and checked assignments when students said they were done.

And there is a club atmosphere. The students get the chance to build relationships with children and teachers they don&8217;t see during the regular day.

In the gym, there was a little entrepreneurship going on. Nyelah&8217;s friend Dekerria (not one of Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s) talked me out of $1 for a handcrafted beaded bracelet with my initials on it. Dekerria & Friends Bracelet Co. is looking to expand, they told me. I advised them to call the Economic Development Authority.

When they get older, these club members will be expected to be active in community service. They&8217;ll become leaders in the club and role models for the younger children. By then most of them will love the club and feel a connection and responsibility to it. It&8217;ll keep them together and keep them out of trouble.

There were no behavior problems Monday when I was there. No outbursts. No pouting faces. No office referrals. Maybe these are the good children, or maybe they just respect the club rules.

Though I&8217;d always rather see children at home working through homework with their parents and making bracelets with their siblings, the Boys & Girls Club may be the best option for working parents.

Julie Finley is the education reporter for The Natchez Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or