The Jonestown Family Center for Education & Wellness & the Durocher
The Jonestown Family Center encourages the interaction of parents, adults, and children to create a nurturing environment that promotes cognitive development as well as stronger family and community bonds. The Durocher Program helps teens and adults develop leadership abilities through volunteering and civic engagement.
In 1989, Sister Kay Burton began The Durocher Program, a volunteer service organization designed to engage residents in community development and improve the infrastructure of Jonestown. Sister Kay continues to work with The Durocher Program today. A few years later (1992), The Learning Center was opened by Sister Teresa, a parent volunteer and another nun in order to offer enhanced and more specialized early education services to children in Jonestown.
Recently, The Learning Center has been renamed The Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness in order to more accurately reflect its mission. The Center encompasses a Montessori School, a Toddler Program, After-school and Summer Programs, and a Fitness and Health Club. Furthermore, The Durocher Program has been expanded to not only include volunteer activities, but also GED education and a Girls to Women Program for teens and young adults seeking to become involved in the community and help others.
The staff is trained in the Montessori method, which is world-renowned for its effectiveness in teaching children through active learning and self-reliance. This model of learning provides a framework for positive interactions and facilitates language and other skills acquisition. Having access to such an innovative and proven educational method at an early age builds a strong intellectual, emotional and social foundation for Jonestown children and affords them the opportunity for future personal, academic and professional success.
Before children enter the Montessori program, they may attend the Center’s Toddler Program, which is designed to positively affect children’s development (i.e., their brain architecture) prior to preschool. By focusing on language and fine motor skills, as well as social development, this half-day program prepares children to learn and participate in preschool. Children enjoy a number of skill-building activities, including puzzles, books, finger plays, and outside time. The program, which Sister Teresa refers to as a “preschool for the preschool,” currently has 12 toddlers and their parents participating.
For two hours each day after school, children from grades 1-5 come to the Center to complete their homework and take part in a variety of activities. Currently, 30 students take part in the After-school Program and enjoy storytelling, singing, art and physical education. They also learn problem-solving and social skills. The Summer Enrichment Program extends these activities beyond the school year and augments them with interactive learning on special topics, such as healthy eating. School children in grades 1-8 participate.
Pictured Above: Sister Teresa Shields, Program Director
"I'm proud of our Montessori graduates who are always on the honor roll and principal's list."
Sister Teresa Shields
As their new name implies, the Center strives to serve families, not just children. In doing so, they create many opportunities for parents to learn along with their children. The Center offers Parent Workshops once a month and at special times during the year on topics ranging from child development to literacy. Parents also become actively involved through the Parents as Teachers Program, which provides them with knowledge about child development and lends peer encouragement. The Center supports their parents from the time they give birth, and siblings of students are given priority on the waiting list.
By involving parents in their children’s education, the Center is strengthening the ties among parents, children, the school, and the community. Fostering such alliances ensures the best development for children—a strong foundation on which their lives can be built. Not only are children learning at school, but that learning is backed up through interactions at home and reinforced by parents’ learning, as well—creating an environment that best supports children’s intellectual, emotional and social growth.
Through the Durocher Program, Sister Kay Burton teaches GED classes and operates the Volunteer Service Development Program, as well as the Girls to Women Program. She provides opportunities for personal enrichment for teens and adults, including GED attainment, volunteer opportunities to help others and improve the community, and development of personal goals and conduct. As a result, Jonestown children benefit from having an enhanced community that boasts contributing teens and adults who have a greater potential to improve the area for children. Furthermore, a generational cycle of community involvement and mentorship is established.
Pictured Above: Sister Kay Burton (center), Program Director
"When I say to a group I need some help,...I get all kinds of help...'I'll help, I'll help, I'll help!'...It's thrilling to me."
Sister Kay Burton
Sister Kay has a medley of offshoots that have stemmed from her primary projects. She has orchestrated a carpentry program for boys that came about as a result of younger children watching her volunteers repair homes. She has a gardening program. And she pays a piano teacher to offer lessons to interested children because she believes so strongly in the importance of music education in young people’s lives. Sister Kay tends to residents of all ages by seizing opportunities as they arise for a variety of enriching experiences that lend themselves to holistic development.
Jonestown is not unlike a lot of towns in Mississippi where the economic landscape has shifted, leaving families without adequate infrastructure and support for education. However, community-level solutions are possible. Sister Kay states that similar programs are feasible around the state with volunteer coordination.
Catholic sponsorship and private donors have played a large role in the funding of the Sisters’ efforts. The Holy Names Sisters and various Catholic donors from the Pacific Northwest, where Sisters Teresa and Kay are originally from, have supported their efforts. Furthermore, the Phil Hardin Foundation has provided funding, and AmeriCorps volunteers have provided staff to initiate and maintain the Center. Sister Teresa states that they hope to garner more local support through funding, and they have just appointed a new Board of Directors to oversee future development. In order to secure funding, Sister Kay advises others that a sincere and sustained effort be made. She recommends a good heart and commitment. Once potential donors see good work, she notes, they will support it.
The Sisters and The Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness are there to support families, provide lifelong education, and help build the educational foundation that all children need for the development of intricate and resilient brain architecture starting at an early age. Children who have a strong educational foundation are more likely to succeed academically, continue their education beyond high school, have successful careers and give back to the community. By experiencing a positive learning environment where mutual respect is the norm, children’s personal relationships are also enhanced, and a love of learning is ingrained. Furthermore, the work of The Durocher Program with teens and adults has begun a cycle of civic participation and ownership that will last beyond the work of the Sisters. Investing in the future through these programs is a great gift made by and given to the citizens of Jonestown.
To read the The Jonestown Family Center Success Story in full, please download the MS KIDS COUNT 2008 Data Book here.
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