As the doors of Rolling Ridge Elementary School closed for the summer this week, principal John Ernst walked away with a valuable lesson. Educating a child goes beyond the pages of a textbook; it’s largely about making a difference outside the classroom.
This past school year, community partnerships — something the school district is establishing at every school — enhanced the lives of Rolling Ridge students in ways Ernst never imagined.
The Heritage of Overland Park, a senior living community for people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, sponsored an after-school club every Wednesday at Rolling Ridge, as well as a weekly reading group. The center also established a monthly family meal night, free garage sales, clothing drives and collections for Rolling Ridge families in need.
Redeemer Lutheran Church, in Olathe, recently took over the monthly family meals, donating food and manpower.
The generosity and community spirit demonstrated by both places have been a lifesaver to the school, which has a large number of needy families, said Ernst.
“Any help we can provide our families is greatly appreciated,” he added. “We see the kids more hours in the day than their families. Academics are important in school, but so is enhancing the kids’ lives.”
On a breezy Friday morning last week, the partnership between Rolling Ridge and Heritage came to life during the school’s annual field day.
Students gleefully jumped around an inflatable obstacle course, played tug-of-war and competed in a ball toss. Sitting underneath a tent, several residents from Heritage enjoyed cold water and watching the children play.
Establishing a special bond between the old and the young was one of the reasons the senior living center became involved with the school, said Lesa Suwareh, the dietary director at Heritage. She has two children enrolled at Rolling Ridge.
In the reading group, which serves kindergarteners through second-graders, several residents volunteer to help the kids read books and offer encouragement.
“The residents love to listen to the kids read aloud and they give them positive feedback,” Suwareh said. “They love to see the kids smile. Sometimes they will help the kids pronounce words.”
The kids enjoy it, too.
“Reading to them is better than reading to my dolls because toys can’t talk,” said Makenna Duncan, a second-grader. “It makes me feel good when they compliment my reading skills.”
Fellow classmate Luke Sorrels agreed.
“It’s been nice to practice our reading because I feel like it helped me get better grades this year,” he said.
In the after-school clubs, which were held every Wednesday for third through fifth-graders, activities involved nutrition, arts and crafts, and sports. Residents from Heritage were bused over to Rolling Ridge to help the kids cook healthy recipes, paint or draw, and play games like dodgeball.
They left each week with a big smiles, said Suwareh.
One of those residents was Ann Schneeberg, who also enjoyed watching the students participate in field day.
“I like to be around the children and play with them because it makes me feel young,” she said. “They have a lot of energy.”
Earlier in the school year, Ernst approached Heritage about also starting monthly family meals. Redeemer Lutheran Church took over later in the year, its members donating time and effort to serve Rolling Ridge families nutritious meals and hold gift card auctions.
“It’s a chance for families to sit together and talk over a meal, something lost in our culture these days,” Ernst said. “It’s important for parents and kids to know what happened in each other’s day, to know what’s going on in their lives.”
Next school year, Heritage plans to work with Redeemer to morph the monthly dinners into a family night, where activities like games and dancing would also be included. Of course, the reading group and after school clubs will also resume in the fall, Suwareh said.
The special bond between Heritage, Redeemer, and Rolling Ridge delights the Olathe School District because it fits perfectly into the Adopt-A-School program it rolled out recently. The effort requires every school to have a partnership with a business, faith-based organization and a civic group.
Next year, the district will meet its goal, with every school having one or more partnerships.
“It takes involvement from everyone in the community to make wonderful schools,” said Deputy Superintendent Alison Banikowski. “It really benefits everyone, because sometimes the partnership creates a community service project for the kids or a fun activity. And it also provides the community a look into what’s going on behind school doors, which is extremely important.”