After school program hopes tuition hike doesn't leave kids out

WIGGINS, MS (WLOX) - A Stone County after school program is turning to the community for help so children won't have to go home to an empty house. When Stone Success launched in 2001, it was free. Over the years, officials said they've had to ask parents to start paying tuition. This year the cost for one child jumped from $50 to $65 a month and officials worry that might be too much for some families.

When school is out for the day, the lessons are not over. Becky Smith is one of the teachers for the Stone Success after school program. Smith's job is to reinforce what children learn in the classroom.

"With kindergarten, they have to keep repeating because that's how they learn," Smith said, "So they do it all day long and then we come here. We just help. We help do their letters and their writing."

While about 200 student from kindergarten to eighth grade get to have fun on the computers, play games and arts-and-crafts, the main focus is academics. Since Stone Success is part of the school district, the staff can access students' homework assignments and grades and have open dialogue with their teachers.

"We have what's called soap box," said Director Gayle Harris. "If a student is having difficulty even with something in class for that day, those teachers can soapbox me. I'll print that out and pull extra work. Then we'll be able to work with that child here."

Sixth grader Errol McDonald's parent enrolled him this year and he said he can already see improvement. McDonald said, "When I was in fifth grade I used to be making C's but now I'm making A's."

Officials said the program, made up mostly of retired teachers, produces better grades for students. It also gives parents peace of mind that their child is being supervised while they're at work. Once everyone gets home, parents and children can enjoy more family quality time.

"It helps for the working parents who can't do homework with them sometimes,"said Smith. "So that's why it's really important for us to be here. So children have a safe place to come and to be able to do their homework. When they go home they can just enjoy dinner and family time."

Stone Success is located at the Stone Middle School campus. Officials want to create a scholarship program for low income families in need of after school care. If you would like to sponsor a child call 601-528-5234.

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