Empowering Children & Parents Through Education
By: J. Chevont’e Alexander
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. ~ Nelson Mandela
“I now feel like I can achieve in school. The teachers at Teaching Hands are like family. They help me to focus and I’m getting good grades.” ~ Denisha M.
Joyce Simmons, the Founder and Executive Director of Teaching Hands Learning Academy (THLA) in Richmond, always had a passion for education and investing in the future of our next generation. Her interest started when her eldest son was having academic problems in school due to his learning disabilities, and this motivated her to become an educator. She found herself spending countless hours at his school, being as hands on as she could to insure his educational success. After prodding from the school’s Principal, Ms. Simmons, obtained her GED and a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and education. She went on to obtain a Master of Science degree in elementary education. She started off as a teacher’s aide in New York City and after almost 40 years of teaching , she has left Richmond Public Schools to pursue her higher calling of starting Teaching Hands Learning Academy.
“Seeing my Mom push herself to educate herself and my brother gave me the motivation to succeed. You need role models like that in the community to give our children hope.” says Debbie Carter, Teaching Hands Learning Academy Program Manager (daughter of Executive Director, Joyce Simmons).
Donald Gibson, author of Role Models says that, role models “offer individuals a way to define their developing identity by providing an image of someone they would like to become”. Joyce Simmons was doing that unconsciously in her community, and inevitably the children around her were learning by the great example she set.
The former Richmond Public Schools teacher of twenty years officially started Teaching Hands Learning Academy in 2010, even though she had been offering free tutoring services in various schools around the city since 2000. Teaching Hands services almost 500 children throughout the state. In the City of Richmond alone, over 300 children receive services from Teaching Hands. For the 2011-2012 school year, Teaching Hands provided remediation to students in the areas of reading, writing, math, and specialized tutoring for English Language Learners (ELL). THLA tutors some children in the home or day care setting in the county of Henrico and Prince Edward County. THLA services schools in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, Eastern Shore, Roanoke, Farmville, Petersburg, Suffolk, Henrico and Richmond. The many schools serviced in Richmond City by Teaching Hands Learning Academy are, J.L. Frances Elementary School, Lucille Brown Middle School, Binford Middle School, Henderson Middle School, Elkhardt Middle School and Oak Grove Elementary School. Teaching Hands is able to provide services to any Title 1 school.
“THLA is in the business to encourage and empower children. If a child can dream and believe, they can receive and achieve whatever they want to. Last, it is their job to share with the community,” comments Ms. Simmons.
Mission & Vision of Teaching Hands Learning Academy
The mission of Teaching Hands Learning Academy is to ”provide educational assistance, tutoring, and SOL (Standards of Learning) remediation to students to promote and enhance academic excellence; and to enable students to develop reading, math, and life skills that will help them grow and develop into functional citizens in a changing society.” The vision of the organization is to “develop academic excellence and enhance life skills in students from all socio-economic areas.”
Helping the Parents
The biggest part of helping students is helping the parents achieve their biggest potential as well. It is the full responsibility of the parent to train their child in the way they should go to be successful. It is intensely important for parents to live what they teach in front of their children. For a child to succeed, they must see their parents accomplishing goals.
Teaching Hands works with TriQuest, Inc. to provide free mentoring services to the parents of children who attend Teaching Hands. Some of the services offered include job searching, how to prepare for an interview, and dressing for success. By empowering the parents, you are empowering the child as well. TriQuest, Inc. was established in 2009 to work with area youth to prepare them for corporate and life success. The organization focuses on mentorships, workshops, and building skills and knowledge in the four areas of: corporate readiness, college prep, financial freedom, and male responsibility.
“We not only have to educate our children in English and Math, but prepare them for the real world. A part of corporate readiness is professional development and building your personal brand, which in turns builds your confidence and helps you to succeed in so many other areas of your life personally and in your career.” says Ron Carter, co-founder of TriQuest, Inc.
In addition to partnering with local schools, Teaching Hands partners with Virginia State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Longwood University to provide students, interested in the teaching field, the opportunity to get hands on experience under the supervision of professional teachers employed by Teaching Hands. This has a symbiotic effect because both the college students and the regular classroom students benefit. The experiences for both are unparallel while giving the students the one-on-one assistance they needed to help master their SOL’s. The post-test scores increase reflects that strong partnership.
“When you look at the failing rates of SOL’s, it is going to take more than what the school districts have to make a difference in our children’s education” comments Joyce Simmons.
Teaching Hands is not an organization with tons of resources, but they do believe in the concept of giving back. THLA has donated books and school supplies to local schools as well as hosted cookouts in the local area near Pine Camp in Richmond. This not only benefits the Henderson Middle school students and parents but the community as well. Teaching hands also hosted a cookout in Farmville, as a thank you to parents for allowing their children in Prince Edward County Schools to be in our program. Both community functions were greatly appreciated by parents and the community. Lastly, Teaching Hands staff put on gloves and aprons to go back to G. W. Carver Elementary School in Richmond City to serve a full lunch to all staff members in February 2012. Teaching Hands welcomes the opportunity to give back to the schools, because Ms. Simmons remembers the challenges she and her son faced years ago in New York City.
“I had a calling to start a school, so I could make the decisions as to how I teach, what I teach, and to make a true difference in the community.” comments Simmons.
THLA is in the process of completing the requirements to be a certified child-care provider so students can continue pursuing their education while their child are in the same location. THLA will be hosting workshops in the area of GED (General Educational Development) prep, job readiness, and financial freedom. They also will continue to partner with local organizations donating gently used clothing so our youth can have acceptable business attire for job interviews.
“As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., community service is vital. By giving back to the community, you are able to teach the next generation the importance of striving for success.” comments Carter.
A New Opportunity
THLA is adding a new twist this year to the programs and services they offer. In addition to tutoring K-12, they are now working with pregnant young women and young men. Even though teenage pregnancy is down in the state of Virginia, there is still a gap between the time frame pregnant mothers get pregnant, are able to return to school, and be able to graduate on time. Teaching Hands will help to bridge that gap, by offering daycare services to teen moms while they are receiving tutoring services.
“We are in the process of being licensed to provide child care services to children. We want to be able to help meet the needs and challenges of the pregnant teens in our area”, says Ms. Simmons.
In their ‘Boys to Young Men’ program, boys will be mentored by some of the best men in the Tri-City area. The problems that young boys deal with in the classroom as well as in the community continue to develop as they grow into young adults. These start when they are in elementary school. If a young man is not turned round for the better by 8th grade, there is a direct correlation between those behaviors and our higher dropout rates. Those pregnant young women are only part of the equation; the young men are the other part. THLA is that support system for our Boys to Young Men and Teen Pregnant Program in the community. It is important for these children to learn that just because they have an obstacle in the road, successes can still be achieved.
Achieving Goals & Seeing Results
In all of the schools Teaching Hands provides services, significant growth has been seen using the curriculum Joyce Simmons chose. Her style of teaching is able to tap into the different modalities of learning styles children possess. Physical objects are used as teaching tools to engage students. They not only have to read and solve problems, but the hands on experience helps in the learning process. The children learn by seeing and doing.
There is no doubt that Teaching Hands is important to parents, children, schools, principals, and the community. Education is the key to open many doors. When one is not educated, one is not empowered to walk through those same doors.
Reaping the Rewards
“We have to invest in our children from a young age through college,” says Simmons.
Children’s scores go up substantially from the work Teaching Hands does in the community. This year the organization gave allowances to the children for their hard work. The same way employees are rewarded at their jobs for great work; the children at the academy were rewarded for their diligence and hard work in school.
“When we see those light bulbs of grasping a new concept and acquiring confidence in new skills go off, and feel their anxiousness to want to please, we know we have made a difference in that child’s life,” said Ms. Simmons.
How THLA Needs Your Help
With the consistent devotion of time in the schools and community, Teaching Hands needs your help to continue making dreams a reality. When their new facility opens, THLA is looking to have a resource room with computers for students to use for SOL practice and homework assistance. With the donation of computers, children are able to get the additional help needed to bridge the gap with excelling in the new on-line SOL’s.
THLA is also in need of transportation to pick up students. There are many students who are homeless and have a designated time to be back at their shelters. With a used van the organization would be able to ensure that all students have transportation to and from the center.
Teaching Hands is also seeking furniture to use in the day care for all age groups. As the organization begins to establish a daycare at their facility, people can donate gently used furniture to help furnish the facility.
For more information about Teaching Hands Learning Academy and how you can get involved, please visit: www.TeachingHands.org To lend assistance, please contact Program Manager, Debbie Carter at 804-882-8073 or Debbie@teachinghands.org
“Children hold a special place in my heart. THLA will continue to partner with District Offices to help our children by any means necessary”. We at Teaching Hands understand that the work we perform now will benefit children for generations and will help facilitate a stronger bridge between school and community to produce self-sufficient citizens in a changing society“, says Ms. Simmons.