One big question facing TUCW in 2001 was which social justice initiative should the congregation consider. After considering other options, members voted to adopt the entire Beardsley school rather than one particular classroom, and the first Beardsley Committee, composed of Dan Iacovella, Kate McGraw, and Lenora Harris Field, began its work. By 2003 the Committee included three women: Kate McGraw, a Special Education Administrator in the Westport School System, Mary Beth Mollica, a TUCW parent dedicated to improving education in Bridgeport, and Ruth Fine, another TUCW member who, with her husband, Roy, provided the impetus for our annual Very Fine Lifetime Volunteer Service Award. For many, many years these 3 women were the ‘face’ of the Beardsley committee, working doggedly to provide readers, tutors, and mentors to Beardsley students. Ruth was the original ‘thank you’ person, always sending appreciative notes to those who donated time or resources to Beardsley.
The Beardsley Committee
Over the ensuing years, Mary Beth served as the Chair, enlarging the number of committee members to include Carol Dannhauser, Jamie Forbes, Carol Seiple, Lorna Donnelly, Lynne Brooks, Lynne Laukhuf, and Anita Pfluger. Mary Beth expanded the reach and influence of TUCW’s embrace of Beardsley School. She stepped down in 2017 and left a highly organized and efficient committee. With resignations for various reasons, the committee now includes, Linda Brewster, Jamie Forbes, Kathy Roberts, Beth Cliff, Lynne Laukhuf, Sari Bodi, and Anita Pfluger. Committee members meet monthly to plan upcoming events and to assure that everything is functioning smoothly. They also meet each month with the Beardsley principal to keep her informed and to learn of any needs the school may have such as funding for field trips, uniforms, or a family who suffered a fire and needed clothing and supplies.
What We Do
From an initial group of about 20 readers and tutors, we now, in 2019, have more than 30 volunteers who read, tutor, mentor, lead book clubs, offer enrichment opportunities, work in the library, and so much more! We’re proud to have regular readers for each of the classes at Beardsley. Readers meet weekly or every other week to share books and the love of reading with the students. Some stay in the same classroom for years as Marjolijn de Jager has done with Peggy Lynch’s class since 2005, and all of our readers have been captivated by the interest and excitement of the students, not to mention the appreciation of the individual teachers. Tutors meet consistently with students who are struggling. Our tutors work with individual students or small groups at least one day a week for approximately 1 hour. They help students with math concepts, basic reading and reading comprehension.
In 2013 a major project focusing on the school library began. For 4 days at the end of June, more than a dozen TUCW volunteers updated the resources of the library, organizing books into specific sections, cleaning books, adding new mylar covers, replacing spine labels, and, a few months later, making the room more welcoming and attractive with a brand new coat of yellow paint. Today at least 7 library volunteers help check in and shelve returned books, add new books to the collection, work on book fairs, create bulletin boards, and help to arrange author visits. And our library volunteers have done an incredible job of reaching out to bookstores, authors, publishers, individuals, and organizations for donations to increase the amount and variety of books in the library. In 2016, an old computer lab was transformed into a brand new picture book library. Our very own Westbridge Coalition donated many hours of hard work designing, building, and installing customized book shelves for this library. And, at the Picture Book Library dedication, it was named for Anita Pfluger!
Recently TUCW volunteers have provided enrichment opportunities for small groups of students. Sari Bodi and Westport author Michaela MacColl lead Writers’ Workshops for 5th and 6th graders. Julie Kennedy holds a weekly book club where the students share their thoughts about characters and events in a particular book. Beth Cliff brings music into each kindergarten class with songs and activities to enhance their natural tendencies for rhythm and movement. Jean O’Dell, a retired math teacher, works with a small group of 6th grade students on pre-algebra topics. Expanding enrichment opportunities for K- grade 6 children regarded as ‘advanced’ is a major focus of the committee’s 2019-20 goals for the year.
Beyond the Classroom
The Beardsley Committee is extremely grateful for the additional help given by TUCW members. Hand knitted scarves and hats for each kindergartner are created by the Shawl Ministry Committee each year. This project has occurred since 2011, and the joy on the faces of the children is always a thrill. One child could not believe her colorful hat and scarf were hers to take home! Since 2007 Felicity Medinger has organized Santa Elves for as many as 30 struggling families. Members of TUCW graciously provide generous gifts at Christmastime for these students and their families. The Beardsley Board, located in the foyer of the church on each Sunday, is another opportunity for the congregation to support Beardsley without actually going to the school. The Board lists items requested by teachers such as wipes, tissues, specific learning materials, supplies, or books, and TUCW members respond with donations.
Over these many years, close relations have developed between TUCW volunteers and the faculty at Beardsley. In addition to supporting the annual Read Aloud Day in October, coordinated by Bridgeport’s School Volunteer Association, the committee also arranges its own Read Aloud Day in May during Teacher Appreciation Week. As a gesture of our appreciation, the committee provides coffee gift cards for all teachers and staff members. Finally, each spring the committee holds a potluck supper for the Beardsley teachers and TUCW volunteers. It is a joyful evening for furthering our friendships, sharing experiences, and celebrating our accomplishments throughout the year.
You Can Help!
2019 marks TUCW’s 18th year of continuous outreach to this deserving school. Thank you to those who have contributed their time and talents these many years. If you would like to be involved in anyway, please contact Linda Brewster.