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LECThe other day, I was sitting at a desk inside of a Norfolk elementary school classroom with a first grade student. We were talking about how summer break is quickly approaching. She looked up at me and said,"I don't want you to leave."

Those were some powerful words said to me, someone who for lack of better words, isn't a "kid person."

Now, you're probably wondering why I was inside of an elementary school to begin with at 26 years old. Let me explain.

In January, then-Colonel Joe Baron of the Norfolk Sheriff's Office and I were visiting the elementary school for an event. We happened to see some of his former Norfolk Police Department co-workers walking down the hall with kids smiling in tow as we were leaving. Of course, we had to ask why they were there.

It turns out that the police officers were just a few of nearly 400 Life Enrichment Center volunteer tutors.

Commonly known as the LEC, the organization was tasked in 2006 to make sure children in Norfolk could read proficiently by the end of the third grade. The majority of students originally enrolled in the tutoring program grew up in impoverished neighborhoods where education - especially literacy - took a back seat to organized crime, neglect, and family problems. While initiating the LEC, President and Founder Kevin Turpin was told that some cities base the number of jail spaces they'll need on the number of kids who can't read on-level by 8th grade. He promised himself that he couldn't (and wouldn't) let that happen in Norfolk.

The original plan for the LEC was to serve between 20-30 students. Today, the LEC proudly has tutors assigned to dozens of Title 1 elementary schools in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Hampton. These volunteers are trained by certified LEC staff to successfully tutor in phonics, comprehension, grammar, and spelling. Each tutor is matched with a child in need of assistance for one hour each week throughout an entire school year.

After hearing about the program, now-Sheriff Baron wanted to get his staff involved in helping the organization and these children in need. This is where it all started.

Within 3 weeks, myself and 19 other co-workers from the NSO attended tutor training at the LEC headquarters on West Bute Street in Norfolk. Not really sure what we were getting into, we chose our schools and the LEC staff matched us to kids that so desperately needed our help.

I met my tutee for the first time in early February. For privacy purposes, I'll call her Leah. I distinctly remember walking into her school for the first time. There were empty beer bottles on the corner of the grassy yard leading up to the main office.

KailaHeadshotMy stomach was in knots. What was I getting into? Would I be able to handle this? I went to grade school in rural Pennsylvania where my parents couldn't even pick me up from school without showing a million forms of I.D.

When I got to her classroom, Leah's teacher provided our initial introduction. I was definitely more nervous than she was. Leah was a small girl wearing a school uniform that looked like the rest of her classmates. As I escorted her alone to the classroom where we'd be spending the next hour, she was extremely quiet (not helping my already awkward self with children).

On our walk, which made the classroom feel like miles away, I told her I liked her glittery gold nails. She replied with a quick "thank you." Ok, what do I say next to a 1st grader? I asked her what she was doing in class that day, what her favorite school lunch was, etc. This was going to be a long few months.

Let's flash forward to today. I could not have been more wrong than I was on that first day. I'm proud to say that Leah now knows 95% of her sight words (spelling the word 'yellow' always throws her off, but let's cut her a break). She's excited to read books that she originally couldn't even pronounce one word in. She is bubbly and excited when I show up at her classroom every Thursday. It's like I'm working with a completely different kid.

Not only has Leah changed over the past 3 months, but I have too. Being an LEC tutor has taught me how to interact with and be more comfortable around children. It has also taught me responsibility. It is my duty to show up every week because that little girl's success depends on my assistance. More importantly, giving an hour of my day once a week is a simple way for me to give back to the community that I've been a part of for more than three years.

By 2020, the LEC is projected to enroll more than 800 tutors and expand into areas such as Newport News, Richmond, and Washington D.C. For as long as we are able, the NSO will have staff members serving as tutors.

For now, Leah will get her summer break in two weeks. As much as I will miss teaching her, I hope to only see her in passing next year, for that will mean that she's reading on grade level and that my job is done.

I'm not the only NSO staffer who's been positively impacted by this experience. This is what some other NSO LEC tutors have said:

"I just wanted to take a moment to tell you how glad I am that the Sheriff started this initiative to get us mentoring and tutoring in Norfolk's elementary schools. I've had a blast getting to know my student and working with her every Wednesday. It has been a very rewarding time that I look forward to every week. I'm sad it's ending for this school year, but am excited to participate again next year. The staff at Campostella are all extremely welcoming and it's just been a wonderful experience overall!"

-Jennifer Worden, NSO Staff Attorney

"My tutoring experience has been great! I developed a special bond with my student and found that she was sad when she thought I wasn't coming. At our first session, I chose a Dr. Seuss book and asked her to read it to me as if I were the student. At that time, she didn't seem to have the confidence to do it. After that day, she wanted to read the book to me on each session, and then we branched out to other books. She seems to enjoy reading. I truly hope that the tutoring program continues with Norfolk Public Schools.

-Captain Karen Arrington

"I'll be honest, I was a little nervous to get involved in this program. However, it has now given me something to look forward to every week. Working with my student helps me remember what it was like teaching my own young kids how to read. Her face lights up every time I come and pick her up at her classroom. Whether its reading a book or learning how to write, she always tries her best. I think this program is a good way for us as law enforcement officers to not only give back to the community we protect, but also to show kids that we're here to help protect them and help them succeed."

-Major Janetta Grizzard

 These are the NSO saffers currently participating in the LEC program as tutors:

Capt. Karen Arrington – tutors at Chesterfield
LtCol. Angela Bennett – tutors at St. Helena
Lt. Meryah Breeden – tutors at Chesterfield
Lt. Stephanie Cleek – tutors at Chesterfield
Kaila DeRienzo – tutors at St. Helena
Julia Dunn – tutors at Chesterfield
Cpl. Johnathan Eagle – tutors at James Monroe
David Gibson – tutors at Chesterfield
Sgt. Melvin Goosby – tutors at James Monroe
Maj. Janetta Grizzard – tutors at Chesterfield
Capt. Ronald McInnis – tutors at Richard Bowling
Lt. Lillian Morrow – tutors at Tidewater Park
LtCol. Michael O’Toole – tutors at Chesterfield
Lt. Ben Pestik – tutors at SS STEM
Maj. Duane Spruill – tutors at St. Helena
Roger Stephenson – tutors at Chesterfield
Capt. Richard Trevena – tutors at SS STEM
Dep. Karim Waheed – tutors at Chesterfield
Jennifer Worden – tutors at SS STEM
LtCol. Chris Walz – tutors at Chesterfield


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