“My favorite day of the week is Wednesday,” said Debbie Bailey, beaming a wide smile. Bailey, an eighth-grade Civics and Economics teacher at G.W. Carver Middle School, spends her Wednesdays hanging out with her students who live in the Broadwater community in an afterschool program in the community’s clubhouse. Bailey and volunteers call the program the Broadwater Learning Center. The center received a big boost a couple of weeks ago when 10 refurbished computers were donated from Movement Mortgage and the same week she – a 29-year veteran teacher – was honored by her peers as Carver’s Teacher of the Year.
“I teach a significant number of students who live in the Broadwater community and have felt that a community outreach program involving the school, corporate sponsors and local churches would really benefit the students who live in this community,” said the magnetic Bailey. “I brought the idea up to my principal in August and we began working with the property manager, local churches and teachers to begin the program. My vision was to create a place where the kids could come hang out, have a healthy snack, get help with their homework, access to a computer and the internet and talk with a caring, compassionate adult.”
The program began in February and meets each Wednesday from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. Bailey said she was worried in the beginning that the students would not come to the learning center. “The first day I sat anxiously and waited…six students showed up,” she said. “I had two wonderful colleagues of mine, Will Fox and Adam Layton, spend an afternoon with me putting flyers on every door in the community advertising the learning center. I made announcements at school as well. The second day we grew in number to about 12 and it has grown every week. A couple of weeks ago we had as many as 28 kids there at once.” Bailey said the program is totally voluntary on the kid’s part and they never know who or how many kids will show up. “One day my brother, who lives in Pennsylvania, showed up with 10 large pizzas…we were full that day. Kids heard there was pizza in the clubhouse and they kept coming on in. It was great.”
All students are welcome. “We start with the middle school students because they get home first,” she said. “The elementary school student’s start coming in about 4 p.m. We have seen a few high school students, but they mostly come to hang out and talk with us. Maybe now that we have lap tops and the internet more high school students will show up to do homework.”
The laptops came with the help of her friend, Mary Bruckner, a senior loan officer with Movement Mortgage. “She knew what I was trying to do with the learning center and she suggested I write her company’s foundation (Movement Foundation) and ask for help,” said Bailey.
Bailey wanted a lot for the program. Along with the computers, her wish list included new furniture and a full-time position for a social worker. She and her co-workers that volunteer provide the snacks each week. “I asked for a $100,000. I wanted a bunch of stuff. They got back with me and expressed how the mission of Movement Foundation was not well-suited for what I was trying to accomplish, but they really felt like they wanted to help in some way. They offered to supply the 10 lap tops. I accepted.” Adding, “It is huge to be able to get the computers for the kids to get to their homework. Many of them may not have computers available at home. I am thrilled.”
“The kids love the snacks and drinks I bring,” she said. “The financial hardship is on us to keep supplying snacks and drinks. I would really love a business or organization in the community to step up and volunteer some snacks, drinks or school supplies. I hand out a lot of pencils and paper.” “Dustin and Katie Young from Colonial Heights Baptist Church and many teachers at Carver have volunteered and helped out at Broadwater,” Bailey said.
The kids are responding to the mission of the learning center. “I have been doing my homework,” said Robert Pickett. “I didn’t do it as much before I started coming.”
Sixth-grade student Jalisa Coleman made her first visit a couple of weeks ago. Eagerly doing her homework while using the computer she said, “My brothers said I should come. It was a good thing. The poster also motivated me. It mentioned homework, games and snacks and lots of fun.”
Others said they like doing their homework with their friends. Eighth-grade student Ron Putnan said, “This is a very relaxed place for everyone. You can learn and hang-out at the same time. At the end, everyone can benefit from this.”
To hear fellow teacher and volunteer at the center, Josh Forbes, you may understand why she was selected by her peers as Teacher of the Year. “She is a genius,” he said. “When she has an idea, you want to follow it.” Adding that the philosophy at Carver with the faculty and administration is to reach out into the community, he said, “We need to connect with our kids – academic and personal. Help them with their homework and get out in the community - especially with middle-school-age children. The more we can expose them to education and the resources available for them, the more it can help them with success.”
Bailey was given a small celebration during a faculty meeting in the library on the Monday they came back from Spring break. “I felt very honored and humbled. I work with amazing teachers who are all equally deserving. It is nice to be recognized by your peers. The teachers at Carver do a fabulous job. I am in really good company.”
Bailey taught for 25 years at Chester Middle School and the last four at Carver. She moved there when the school board closed Chester Middle.
This Sunday she will be celebrating Mother’s Day with her family. She is married to Chuck Bailey. They have two children. Their daughter, Sarah, has cerebral palsy. She graduated from U.VA. undergrad with a degree in Philosophy and Bio Ethics and is now a student at Regent University where she is getting a Master’s Degree in Divinity and a Doctorate in Law. She will graduate next May, 2015 with those two additional degrees. Their son, Jake, is a senior at Matoaca High School. He plays baseball for Matoaca and has committed to Bridgewater College to play baseball there next year.
Bailey is open to accepting donations for the center. Snacks or money. Donations could be dropped off at the Carver Middle School office. “Any donation would be awesome... school supplies, snacks...,” she said. For additional questions or if you are interested in volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org.