The “It Takes a Village” Project partnership between Alamance-Burlington School System and Elon University celebrated 15 years of tutoring elementary school students across the county.

Face painting, balloon animals, arts and crafts, food and music filled Alumni Gym for the celebration on Wednesday. Cummings High School marching band also performed.

Through the project — known simply as the Village Project — Elon students and other volunteers have tutored ABSS students in 12 Title I elementary schools across Alamance county. The program started in 2008 as a semester project in former Elon professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr's literature class to improve the reading skills of struggling ABSS students.

This semester, approximately 600 students at 10 elementary schools were tutored through the program. Rattigan-Rohr said she has loved seeing students grow. 

“The thing that thrills me the most is to see students who started with us in the first grade who are now in college. That’s fabulous,” Rattigan-Rohr said. “What more could we ask?”

Haw River Elementary School student Antiq Rogers said she hopes to go to college one day. For now, she works with a Village Project tutor after school. She said her tutors are kind and help her “add big numbers.”

Rogers’ mother Andrea Merant said she is thankful for the tutors, who can help her daughter when she is unavailable.

“It goes a long way. She comes home excited and she’s motivated and she wants to go back and learn more,” Merant said. “It warms my heart to know that it’s like a village. You guys are like family to me so it just means a lot.” 

It also means a lot to Sydney Simmons ‘20, who has served as program coordinator at the Village Project since July 2022 and volunteered with the organization during her four years at Elon. 

She said she loves her new role and has no plans to leave it.

“This really is a fulfilling job and something I see doing for a long time,” Simmons said. “Realistically, for the rest of my life.”

She said the program has proved vital to educating the Alamance County community.

“These are our children, this is our youth,” Simmons said. “When we invest in them, it really helps all of us.”

She said the Village Project is also important to the Elon community because it pushes students out of the “Elon bubble.”

“Being a part of that allows us to be global citizens — but not even just global —  allows us to be citizens where we are living for the next four years,” Simmons said. 

Erin Martin | Elon News Network
Community members, parents and kids gathered in Alumni Gym on May 3 to celebrate fifteen years of the It Takes a Village Project.

One such citizen is Elon sophomore Ryan McKenna, one of 300 Elon students who volunteer with the Village Project. McKenna started volunteering this semester for EDU 2460: Math Science in Early Childhood. He said his favorite part of working with ABSS students is applying what he learns in class to tutoring sessions. 

“It’s a real-world opportunity where we can learn as much as we can in class, but I don’t apply these things in my different tests and in papers,” McKenna said. “I would have a much different experience understanding the concepts that we talk about if I didn’t go here.”

He said he plans to continue volunteering with the Village Project because of the valuable opportunities it provides and the teachers who also participate. 

“They’re so welcoming,” McKenna said. “They’re not just telling you what to do, they want to get to know you.”

ABSS elementary school teacher and Village Project volunteer Nina Stowe said she sees students excel in the classroom as a product of the “It Takes A Village” project. 

“When you can trigger a lightbulb to go off in a child’s head because they’ve been struggling with something, to me that just brings me pleasure to know that I've helped them and to know that they can now feel good about themselves,” Stowe said.  

While it was originally designed to help students struggling with reading, Rattigan-Rohr said the program has expanded to help students with math and science. Another aspect of the project is the “Little Village” program, designed to help pre-kindergarten students. It was suspended with the pandemic, but a $50,000 grant for ABSS brought the program back in January. 

Rattigan-Rohr and university President Connie Book attribute the program's impact in part to grants from the Oak Foundation, including a $1.25 million grant two years ago. 

President Book said in an interview with ENN she is proud of the collaboration between Elon and the Village Project.

“It’s one of those partnerships where we’re mutually invested in the success of future leaders for Alamance County, and the power of learning, and the richness that brings to a person’s life,” Book said. 

She said the duration of the project demonstrates its accomplishments over the years.

“Most interventions don’t last this long. And that speaks to the great outcomes to be celebrating 15 years and the long-term impact of this program on the county for change,” Book said. “We’re going to continue to deepen that legacy.”