The tutoring program is just one of the commitments the church has made to serve the city of Perry and change it for the glory of God.
“We are helping students and schools, but also the families,” said Pastor Steven Ruff. “We want to be involved in strengthening families in our community. That’s what we’re going all in on.”
Volunteers from First Perry offer the one-on-one after-school tutoring and mentoring to local third through fifth-grade students every Tuesday afternoon. The Taylor County students are transported by school bus to the church, where the tutors await their arrival.
Coming onto the church campus about 2:45 p.m., the students unwind from the stress of school with 30 minutes of free time, a snack and activities including ping pong, pool and other games. Tutoring sessions begin about 3:15 p.m. and last an hour, sometimes a little longer. Then parents pick up their children.
“If parents are working, they’ve got several kids and homework needs to be done. Students can take care of all of that here with us and then there is less pressure and stress at home,” Ruff said. “We can help alleviate some of that for families and strengthen them and just be a safe place for them to be.”
Currently six students take advantage of the free tutoring program. Volunteer tutors work one-on-one with students to help them in reading or math or both, as requested by their teachers. Students also participate in a devotional and are invited to family activities at the church.
“It’s a joy to be able to sit down with them, especially when you have a child who either struggles or thinks they’re never going to get it, and then finally realize how to do it,” said student pastor Steven Perry. “I mean that is such a cool thing to witness.”
Although the school had previously adopted the third grade at the elementary school, encouraging teachers, praying for them, and providing snack and breakfast foods, Pastor Ruff wanted to do more. He hosted an educational roundtable at church to discuss possible ideas. The tutoring project came from that, and the church piloted a successful program for third graders in the spring of 2021.
Working with Marc Johnston, community ministries catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention, the church enlisted a nationally accredited instructor to hold “Tutoring Young Children and Teens” training for church volunteers this past summer.
“The training equipped us to be able to do it better and more effectively,” Ruff said. “She did a great job of encouraging our tutors and showing us how to do it in a way that gets kids’ attention. That really showed the volunteers that we wanted them to succeed by providing the training for them.”
In the fall, teachers identified about 25 students who would benefit from the program that started in January. Of those, 10 parents approved the tutoring and ultimately six children are currently participating.
Perry said the program has helped students turn around their grades.
“Last year during the pilot project we had a student struggling and the teacher was quick to give praise to this tutoring program when the student made an A on the exam,” he said. “We do see progress in their grades and in their enjoyment of academics.”
While they first expressed a reluctance for another hour of school at the beginning of the program, he added, “by the time we wrap this up in April before they start their May testing, they don’t want to leave.”
Ruff said the church hopes to help more students and families by recruiting members from other churches to assist with the tutoring.
“That would be the ultimate goal – to have so many students we could reach and help that it would require us to partner together with other churches,” the pastor said.
“Next year’s goal is to just reach these kids in the school system and help them catch up, be at a place where they feel good about where they are in school and just excel.”