Churches help stars shine in the thousands

Alvin senior Andrea Toledo smiles with her reading buddy. Photo courtesy of STARS.

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

One thousand volunteers from dozens of churches across Waco have signed up to mentor students in Waco ISD schools through book clubs.

The Stars Mentoring Project, which started out of Antioch Community Church several years after its founding in 1999, started book clubs in 2013. Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, from retirees to college students, spend one lunch a week reading with three kids of a similar reading level.

Michael Jeter, operations director of stars, says the bookclub model’s success is a win for everyone.

“It’s a win for schools, who are under so much pressure and facing so many challenges to have volunteers coming and doing what teachers don’t have the capacity to do,” Jeter said. “Teachers can’t sit down with groups of three students every week with them reading, slowly figuring things out. They have 20-25 kids per class, and so many other things they have to do.”

Jeter said Waco has experienced an education crisis over the past year. Five schools would have closed if they didn’t meet standards last May, and Jeter thinks that got a lot of people’s attention.

“We’re failing in a way if we’re not providing that community and the education they need to have the opportunities and be able to live up to their potential,” Jeter said.

According to Jeter, many in the community had this mindset and decided to do something about it.

Churches caught on and realized book clubs are an easy way to serve the schools. Stars had already shared their model with seven other churches for them to implement.

“This year we’re looking at dozens of churches sending volunteers into 10 Waco ISD elementary schools to do book clubs,” Jeter said.

Many volunteers are Baylor students getting involved in the community through their local church. Garland junior Brooke Stringer is one of those students. She was at Antioch when she heard of the need and is a Speech Pathology major, so helping out “kiddos” is what she wants to do with her life.

“I had three boys who were in third grade last year and they were really excited,” Stringer said. “They felt very cool to be in book club, which was so funny to think about because now you’re like ‘ugh, school,’ but they’re so excited to learn. As the semester went on and progressed, I was seeing progress and I could see the confidence in all their reading and they would ask questions about stuff. They would actually help each other, like ‘Oh, I know what that means, I can help.’”

Stringer is aware of the crisis Waco ISD has faced and thinks that volunteering in the community has an essential impact.

“It’s so cool that we as college students get to step in and help someone that we don’t know,” Stringer said. “It’s not that we’re just helping those three students, but we’re helping their school and their family. You think you’re taking a small step, but it’s doing way more than what your eyes can see.”