Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation.
-John F. Kennedy
Lemont Township Facilities Director Kathy Henrikson knows a good education can help children fulfill their hopes and dreams. But she also knows that achieving those goals may be more difficult for local kids who are struggling with their schoolwork - while their parents are struggling just to pay the rent and put food on the table.
So Henrikson and retired District 113A teacher Lenore Duffy put their heads together to find a way to offer help to kids whose families qualify for assistance from the township. The result of Henrikson and Duffy’s brainstorming is “Learn Educate And Progress” (L.E.A.P.), a free after-school tutoring program that began on a trial basis last fall.
“There is a strong need for this in the community,” Henrikson said of L.E.A.P. “We are hoping the program catches on and that families who qualify income-wise will participate. People can come in [to the township offices] any time and fill out an application.”
Duffy and fellow retired District 113A educator Mary Staudt volunteer their time to help students enrolled in the L.E.A.P. program from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Lemont Township offices at 1115 Warner Ave.
Henrikson said that while the township’s responsibility is to take care of social services, issues or problems at the local level, the educational foundation set for young children to build upon is crucial, as well.
“If kids don’t do well when they first start out, it can set a negative tone,” Henrikson said. “But education can open up the door for everything; it may break the cycle for some families we service at the township … and maybe their kids can break that cycle at a crucial time.”
Helping Kids L.E.A.P. Forward
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Lenore Duffy walked through the front doors at Lemont Township a half-hour before her scheduled tutoring session, carrying an oversized bag and pulling a rolling cart behind her. Both were filled to the brim with the tools of her trade – stacks of books and games; snacks and rewards – and even her personal iPad and Kindle e-reader.
With 25 years of teaching experience (10 of those years in special education), Duffy retired last year from Oakwood School. But although she would no longer teach in a traditional classroom, she looked forward to “pursuing some new ideas” in the field of education.
“Teaching is my passion,” Duffy said. “It’s so rewarding; I loved it all those years, and I really miss the kids. But even as a veteran teacher, I never felt like I was getting to every child.”
And Duffy said, although the teachers in District 113A are “just great,” this year, with some class sizes up to 34 students at different learning levels, “getting to every child” becomes an increasingly difficult challenge for those teachers.
“Some kids inevitably need a little extra help to help keep them on track or to catch up,” Duffy said.
But, she asked, with private tutors typically paid up to $40 per hour, how can families who are struggling just to pay the bills possibly afford the extra money needed for tutoring their child?
That’s where L.E.A.P. can step in and offer the extra help and inspiration students may need to set them on a positive path to progress and learn.
Since kids come in right after school, L.E.A.P. tutors begin each session with talking and snack time.
“I like to ask students about their day – and they share a snack and relax for a few minutes,” Duffy said. “Then, it’s time to help with homework and get to work.”
But Duffy takes extra steps to ensure that learning doesn’t feel like “work,” whether by providing each with his or her own colorful folders or by inspiring them through the use of technology – such as an iPad, computer learning game or e-reader.
“I want to make learning special for them,” Duffy said.
Making each child feel special is something for which Duffy has always endeavored. And she said the rewards for her efforts over the years have more than paid off not only for her students, but also for herself.
One of her favorite memories is of a special education student she taught years ago, who, as an adult, showed up unexpectedly at her home one day.
“Mrs. Duffy,” he said, “Do you remember how you always told me I could do anything I wanted to do? I’m a successful builder now, and I’m so proud of myself. I just wanted you to know that.”
For more information about the L.E.A.P. after-school tutoring program or to find out if your family qualifies for the services, call Lemont Township at 630-257-2522.