Michael D. Crump

(Rock Hill, S.C.) –- Late on an October Friday afternoon, students gathered in the lunch room of Richmond Drive Elementary School and while classes had finished for the day, the learning had only just begun.

The students were participating in the Reading Tent Project Oct. 5, which brings in student volunteers from Winthrop University to read books and participate in arts and crafts activities.

“Since I was in a challenger program that did stuff similar to this. I think it is really important that kids have a role model that is a little older than them, but that has also been in their shoes before,” said Martin Jackson, a Winthrop student double-majoring in political science and history.

Jackson said he volunteers his time to the program because he has a place in his heart for kids and wants to give them someone they can relate to.

The program provides reading time and free books to K-5 students in Title One schools in Rock Hill, including Richmond Drive and Oakdale Elementary School.

Megan Baggarly, from the Center for Career and Civic Engagement, has been leading the program the past two semesters.

She said she thinks the project is important because it shows kids that a love for reading does not stop once you grow up.

“The Reading Tent Project is important, because it gives an opportunity for Winthrop students to give back to the local community by working with children who may not have access to books,” said Baggarly. “I think it also gives elementary school students an opportunity to see older students excited about reading.”

Sonya McCrorey, a staff member at Richmond Drive, said the project “means a lot” to the students.

“I love to see the kids get a book and for them to read because reading is very important,” she said.

The event, which was filled with laughter and wide eyes on the part of the children, was the second day that week that Winthrop students volunteered for the Reading Tent Project.

Nia Bartyzel, a junior English major, said she had a great time talking to and learning from the students the previous Tuesday, which is why she decided to volunteer again.

“I work with kids at my local YMCA, so it was nice to go to a different setting and work with the same age groups,” said Bartyzel. “There is no judgement when you talk to younger kids and they just open up and are just friendly.”

The program ended its current run Oct. 19, but Baggarly said it will start back up again soon.

“Spending two hours with elementary school kids is a feel good,” Baggarly said. “They love you being there, they recognize Winthrop students and you always leave with a smile on your face.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact Megan Baggarly at the Center for Career and Civic Engagement or sign up through EAGLEimpact.