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Students volunteer at Martinsburg’s Burke Street Elementary

Shepherd University social work students sit down to enjoy a meal with the kids and parents who participate in Baby & Me and Burke St. Kids at Burke Street Elementary School. Pictured (l. to r.) are Ashley Griffin, Raina Edwards, and Andi Zellman.

Students from two Shepherd departments are gaining hands-on experience working with small children and their parents every Thursday afternoon at Burke Street Elementary School in Martinsburg. Social work and physical education and recreation students are helping with the Promise Neighborhood Initiative after-school program that’s designed to give families knowledge and resources to help their children find educational success.

Once a week for 10 weeks in the fall and 10 weeks in the spring, Burke Street stays open after school offering two programs—Baby & Me and Burke St. Kids. Baby & Me, for children up to five years of age and their parents, offers educationally enriching activities. Older siblings can participate in Burke St. Kids, where college students play games with them and help them with schoolwork. The evenings always end with a meal.

“We try to step in and surround them with supportive kinds of activities,” said Charlotte Norris, who is involved with the program through Destiny Baptist Church in Martinsburg and the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. “We have the playgroup, which we’ve been doing for a couple of years, to help build community and to engage parents with their kids in constructive play.”

Shepherd has been working with the Promise Neighborhood Initiative since the program began in 2011. For six years, Dr. Geri Crawley-Woods, chair of the Department of Social Work, has coordinated volunteer efforts by Shepherd students from various departments. In 2013, Crawley-Woods, with assistance from Dr. Amy DeWitt, associate professor of sociology, and Bachelor of Social Work students conducted a research project to identify leaders and document the needs of the residents in the neighborhood.

“This has been a work of the heart for me,” Crawley-Woods said. “It’s been a great privilege and opportunity to practice as a community social worker and be involved with a project that serves the community and provides the possibility for deep learning for our students.”

Norris said Shepherd’s involvement over the years has been invaluable.

“It’s a great thing because it’s extra hands on deck,” Norris said. “The Shepherd students really engage the kids in some constructive activities and fun play.”

“I think it is essential for social work students to get into the community,” said Amy Garzon Hampton, a clinical instructor in the social work department. “You can’t really learn about social work, how it feels, how to do it, and what kind of environment you’ll be in unless you do it. This is a really good project for them to start trying social work on.”

On a recent sunny Thursday afternoon, several Shepherd students in the Introduction to Social Work class joined other volunteers from the community at the school. Andi Zellman, a Regents Bachelor of Arts student from Martinsburg, worked with children in the Baby & Me room, while Raina Edwards, a social work major from Inwood, and Ashley Griffin, a social work major from Berkeley Springs, spent time with the older children on the school playground, pushing them on swings, shooting hoops, and just conversing.

Andi Zellman, a Regents Bachelor of Arts student from Martinsburg, works with a child in the Baby & Me room at Burke Street Elementary School.

“I love coming here and interacting with the kids,” said Zellman, whose goal is to have a career that involves helping people. “It’s really cool that there’s a family feel when you sit down to eat dinner. It is essentially a bunch of strangers having a meal together, but I think it’s a beautiful thing that the community comes together and has fun. It’s good for the families.”

Edwards works at the Boys and Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle, so she already knows some of the children who participate in the Burke Street program.

“It is really cool to see them here,” Edwards said. “I think it’s good for Shepherd students to know what its like to work with kids and to volunteer because it can help the community a lot.”

Griffin said she appreciates being able to serve as a mentor to children who might not have the same opportunities she’s had.

“It definitely gives me a perspective that I didn’t have before because I have the ability to go to college and further my education, whereas some of these kids might not have that opportunity,” Griffin said.

This is the third year health, physical education, recreation, and sport studies (HPERS) students have helped with the program. Dr. Stacey Kendig, HPERS chair, said the students plan and develop activities specifically to meet the needs of the parents and children who attend Burke Street School.

“This program has been both enlightening and rewarding for all of us who participate,” Kendig said. “The Burke Street program allows students to apply their classroom knowledge and skills in a real-world setting while encouraging participation in all activities offered.”

Amy Feddon, a recreation and sport studies major from Martinsburg, said she enjoys working with both the kids and their parents.

“I will continue to participate in this program because it teaches parents how to interact with their children in a positive after-school setting,” Feddon said.

One goal of Baby & Me and Burke St. Kids is to help the children succeed in school. Crawley-Woods said the standardized test scores at Burke Street Elementary have improved in the years the programs have taken place, and at least one former participant in Burke St. Kids is now enrolled at Shepherd studying biochemistry and doing well.