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Local tutoring program receives state award

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Program acknowledged for work with Hispanic students

By Scotty McDaniel

Hispanic students have found a friend in Shelbyville. And on Wednesday, the Kentucky Board of Education took notice, presenting the annual Dr. Samuel Robinson Award to Arriba Niños.

The Arriba Niños (Upward Children) program was established by four Shelby County churches in 2003 to assistance Hispanic students with their schoolwork and to help with English Language Learning.

“We were just really thrilled because it means a lot to be recognized by the Kentucky Department of Education as having an outstanding program, especially one that they recognize as helping provide equal opportunity education for all children,” said Fawn Fishback, a representative on the Arriba Niños executive committee from First Christian Church.

Relying heavily on trained volunteers from all walks of life -- honor students, business professionals, retired teachers, current teachers – The program offers second-grade-through-eighth-grade students tutoring that may not be possible at home.

“We meet at least six times each semester with Hispanic children who need help with English language literacy skills,” Fishback said.

Through the efforts of First Presbyterian, First Christian (Disciples of Christ), Centenary United Methodist and Catholic Church of the Annunciation, program enrollment numbers have boomed from 15 students, three parents and 16 tutors in spring 2003, to an average of 58 students and 60 tutor volunteers each week this spring.

Though the growth of the program’s efforts is evident, the benefits are also seen in the classrooms as students who participate in Arriba Niños show more confidence in their studies at school, with several scoring among the Proficient/Distinguished on the Kentucky Core Content Tests.

It’s that impact that won the state’s attention. The Robinson Award has been offered since 2004 to individuals or groups in Kentucky that push students to new heights in education.

“The traits of both of these programs -- leadership, commitment and service – are the hallmarks of Dr. Robinson’s remarkable career as an advocate for all children,” said Board Chair Joe Brothers in a press release. “Upon his retirement from the board, it was the intention of his colleagues to honor him, to call attention to others in our state who share his passion for equity and opportunity in education and to pledge continuing support for their efforts.”

Arriba Niños is funded through denominational grants, contributions from the churches and donations. Additional assistance comes from the school district, which identifies students who would most benefit from the program and helps organize the program to go in line with the district-wide goal of improving reading and math.

Shelby County Public Schools has seen its Hispanic student population grow from 76 in 1997 to 887 in 2009, indicating to Fishback that the need to help that population learn English is only growing.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see what the future holds. We hope to continue providing this program,” she said.

The First Baptist Church Bracktown in Fayette County also received the award this year.