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    Charles students celebrate during summer wellness event


    27 days ago

    Elementary school students celebrated their participation in the Butterflies and Dragonflies Mentorship Program earlier this month during a summer wellness event hosted by Beyond the Classroom Inc.

    This annual summer wellness program, held at Eva Turner Elementary School, brought all of the participating “butterfly” girls and “dragonfly” boys together on June 7 for a celebration and one last learning opportunity before the school year ended.

    The participating girls and boys in third through fifth grades had the chance to reflect on their time in the program, listen to advice from previous mentors and take home a box full of activities to do over the summer to continue their social and emotional learning.

    Persephone Miller-Forrest, a student at Eva Turner, volunteered to share her favorite part of being a butterfly in front of everyone.

    “One of the main things I like about butterflies club is how it teaches you how to have self awareness and to know what to do in the future when a situation comes up,” said Miller-Forrest.

    This end-of-the-year program has previously been held at the Charles County Board of Education headquarters, but due to current construction it was moved. However, Turner Elementary’s large playground made it a welcome location change for the students.

    As families set up chairs and picnic blankets, children spent time on the playground, awaiting ice cream, crafts and goodies to take home.

    Lisa Ambers, the founder and president of Beyond the Classroom, started the butterflies program in 2017 at Turner Elementary to provide support and mentorship to young girls.

    Then, the Charles school board decided to sponsor the program and expand it. There are currently four elementary schools in the county that have the Butterflies Mentoring Program: Eva Turner, Indian Head, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd and Dr. Gustavus Brown. Each school has approximately 24 girls in the program at a time.

    Ambers said the program meets officially once a month after school, but teachers and other educators carry out small lessons and activities every week before the school day starts.

    “[The program] is incredible,” said Pame Chisley, a substitute teacher at Mudd Elementary who volunteers with the program. “These young girls need some mentorship.”

    The program helps the students with self confidence, bullying prevention, spreading kindness and financial literacy. Ambers brings in mentors from the community to motivate and inspire the students — including some mentors who are the same age as the butterflies and dragonflies.

    Caitlyn Grimes, a third grade teacher at Indian Head, said the biggest impact this program has in their halls is increasing everyday kindness.

    “Once they’re a butterfly they spread this like, ‘Oh, I need to be kind, doesn’t matter if I’m your friend or not, I still have to be kind and respectful to you,’ and they spread [kindness] through the other kids,” Grimes said.

    At Indian Head their program takes about 25 girls, but they have more than 20 others on a waitlist hoping to join, the teacher said.

    Kai Franklin, a parent from Indian Head, said when her family was new to the area this mentoring program was essential for her 10-year-old daughter Kylie to acclimate and make friends. Franklin said that while her daughter has participated in the program they have gotten to do community events, go to movie theaters and go to Washington Nationals baseball games.

    “She loves it,” Franklin said. “They do so many empowering things. It’s something that I just can’t do at home because she’s an only child.”

    The Dragonflies Mentoring Program for boys did not start until October 2023 and has not yet gone beyond Turner Elementary. This program is primarily led by the Rev. Jared Willemin of LifeStream Church of the Nazarene in Waldorf.

    Jahan Williams, a fourth grader and member of the new dragonfly program, shared in front of everyone what mentoring had taught him this past year.

    “I learned … how to respect other people,” he said.

    Charles Commissioner Ralph E. Patterson II (D) mentored the dragonflies during one of their monthly sessions, and as someone who grew up in the county, Patterson said this program is invaluable and teaches the boys that they can accomplish anything.

    “As long as you can dream it and as long as you have a mentor — somebody that can show you that anything is possible — it reinforces in [the boys] minds that ‘hey, if he can do it, then I can do it too,’” Patterson said.

    Commissioner Gilbert “BJ” Bowling (D), another mentor in attendance, has worked with the butterflies multiple times at Indian Head Elementary, laying out his previous careers as a farmer and a police officer.

    “[The students] are yearning for adult membership,” Bowling said. “It doesn’t really matter what you look like, they’re just looking for people to talk to, people to learn from.”

    Ambers said she could not do anything without Jennifer Bowling, the Title I family and planning coordinator for the Charles public school system and the board’s liaison for the mentorship program. Jennifer Bowling said she’s seen first-hand how much the students love the mentorship.

    “The kids are awesome,” Jennifer Bowling said. “Being inclusive, being friends with everyone and being kind really does transcend with [the students].”

    Toward the end of the program, Ambers took the time to thank all of her supporting educators and mentors that came out to support the summer wellness program. But in the end it was Ambers who was showered with gifts and hugs from the four elementary school’s educators and students.

    “You definitely see the need and [Ambers] fills it without any expectation of glory,” Gilbert Bowling said.

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