The Red Oak Grove Baptist Missionary Church on Veterans Boulevard in Tupelo is a hive of activity this week. About 40 neighborhood children from Kindergarten to Grade 12 are gathered for the church’s ninth annual week-long summer reading program.
In classrooms throughout the building, the 14 volunteer teachers bring their students together for morning reading, math and science exercises. Church volunteers prepare snacks and lunch, and in the parking lot, the church van is full of gas waiting for the group’s daily outings after lunch.
Rev. Dr. Jeffery Gladney and his wife, Valeria, started the program when they moved to Tupelo nine years ago, after a 16-year ministry in Georgia. Valeria said her husband “surprised” her with the idea even before their boxes were unpacked.
“It’s his idea,” she said with a smile. “Jeffery arrived here in March and our son and I stayed in Georgia to end the year. I arrived here on June 4th and this man said he wanted a reading program in July.
Both Gladneys have a passion for education. Jeffery is a former elementary school teacher and Valeria teaches biology and anatomy at Nettleton High School, where she is the former teacher of the year for that school and the current teacher of the year for the ensemble. of his district.
Jeffery said his wife, who has been the director of the program since its inception, has seen many successes over the years.
“She’s good at what she does,” he says. “She motivated a lot of kids who went to college. That’s all our goal: to prepare kids for college and to motivate everyone to read, stay alert, and be their best.
Valeria said the ongoing feedback from alumni keeps her motivated.
“I had a student who is a pharmacist now,” she says. “It just makes my day.”
Both Gladneys agree that the summer reading program is not just for college students.
“My thing is, we want everyone to be better,” said Valeria. “University related or not, we want them all to come and be exposed and learn something. We want them all to go back to school in the fall with a head start.
Valeria said field trips for older students exposed them to a wide variety of educational options.
“There is nothing wrong with the ICC,” she said. “We just want our kids to understand that after that there are other places you can go. From the time our kids are in eighth grade, we take them to see at least five college campuses by the time they graduate. “
The Gladneys said the program helps raise awareness of the value of reading for the whole church.
“From five to ninety-five, we want to see them all read,” Valeria said. “We have a church-wide competition, and at the end of the summer we have a big ceremony. We give cash prizes to those who read the most.
Jeffery said the program not only builds children’s academic skills and confidence, but also creates a bridge with the community.
“It is a total effort of the church and the community,” he said. “Our mission is to work in partnership with the community rather than working in isolation. We not only want to reach the inside, but also the outside. We have so many community partners who donate funds and supplies. It took a while, but it’s really gaining momentum.
The program’s positive results aren’t limited to academics, Jeffery said.
“It’s not just about how it affects our children,” he said. “It helps families and the community. It reduces crime and makes them better citizens and better Christians. It helps them stay ahead of the game and do their best. “