‘It Takes a Village’ Project receives $1.25 million grant to expand tutoring outreach in Alamance County

Elon’s renowned program for struggling young readers has received new Oak Foundation funding to serve more children over the next five years.

Elon University’s unique tutoring program will deepen its impact over the next five years thanks to a new $1.25 million grant. The “It Takes a Village” Project has received additional funding from Oak Foundation, a global philanthropic organization that has supported this initiative since 2011, with three previous grants awarded.

Vice President Jean Rattigan-Rohr speaking during the news conference

This expanded work will serve approximately 1,200 students starting this fall – three times the number of students currently enrolled in the Village Project. About 300 Elon University students and other volunteers annually will tutor children and partner with parents and guardians, 60 public school teachers, and school liaisons and principals in all 12 Title I elementary schools in the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS).

“Our principals, teachers, and parents in several of our Title I elementary schools have been extremely pleased with the work of the “It Takes a Village” Project over the past 13 years,” says Jean Maness, ABSS chief elementary officer. “Our students enjoy the interaction with the tutors and continue to strengthen their academic skills. We look forward to expanding the program to all of our Title I schools in the fall. This is a true partnership between schools and the community working together to help our students be successful.”

President Connie Ledoux Book speaking during the news conference

“The incredible generosity of Oak Foundation has provided resources to make this unique educational partnership a reality,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, Elon’s vice president for access and success and the driving force behind the Village Project.

“Unfortunately, the educational impact of the pandemic has pushed many children even further behind in gaining reading and math skills,” Rattigan-Rohr said. “Several studies have found evidence of a ‘COVID slide,’ in which students have lost ground academically during school closures and remote learning. The need for intervention provided by the Village Project has never been more urgent.”

“We are pleased to support this project that has a clear, positive impact on children’s development. This is especially important now as we begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and as children return to in-person learning,” said Millie Brobston, Oak Foundation’s program officer for special interest grants.

“The Village Project is making a significant difference in our community and is transforming the lives of thousands of children,” said Elon President Connie Ledoux Book. “Through this support, Oak Foundation is investing in our future, providing an educational foundation for children who deserve an opportunity to learn and succeed in school. My sincere thanks to the foundation and to Dr. Rattigan-Rohr for her exceptional leadership.”

Rattigan-Rohr oversees Elon’s premier access initiatives: the Village Project, Elon’s Odyssey Program, First Generation Student Services and the Elon Academy for local high school students. Her research areas include literacy development of traditionally marginalized students, parental involvement and visioning. She presents her research nationally and internationally and is often called upon to speak and share her work.

Jose Alex Reyes ’25, who will arrive at Elon this fall as an Odyssey Program scholar, speaks during the news conference.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday at Elon, Jose Alex Reyes ’25 talked about the impact the Village Project and Elon Academy had on his life and the role it played in preparing him to enter Elon this fall as an Odyssey Program scholar. Reyes first became involved with Elon in the first grade through the Village Project, and now serves on its advisory board.

“I can say without a doubt that the Village Project has helped guide me throughout my life and shaped me to become the person I am today,” Reyes told the crowd gathered in the Great Hall at Elon. “We are in a new chapter of the Village Project and moving forward, we hope to reach more families and help make a difference in students’ lives like it did with mine.”

In this file photo, an Elon student works with Reyes, right, through the It Takes a Village Project when he was in elementary school.

New funding from this grant will allow for a broad and multi-layered expansion of the Village Project and partnerships with our surrounding communities. Included in the expansion plans is a new partnership between the Village Project, Elon’s Physician Assistant Studies “Underserved Populations” course and Alamance Community College (ACC). The plan is to create Start Early in Medicine, a new health science academic learning component of ACC’s Medical Bridge: Minority Males in Medicine middle school/high school project.

“We need to rethink the concept of a pipeline in creating greater equity in education,” says Alexis Moore, assistant professor of physician assistant studies. “Medicine in many ways functions as an apprenticeship, and exposure and nurturing around that profession can start at early ages, especially in communities of color.”

From left, Algie Gatewood, Jose Alex Reyes, Jean Rattigan-Rohr, Connie Ledoux Book and Bruce Benson

About 100 middle grades students enrolled in the ACC Minority Males in Medicine program will take part in Start Early in Medicine in Elon’s School of Health Sciences. Alamance Community College President Algie Gatewood says the new collaboration with Elon provides an infusion of resources that will enhance the curriculum and support the academic success of minority males in the Medical Bridge program.

“This partnership will bear fruit for years to come in supporting students on their path toward medical degrees,” Gatewood says. “We are grateful to Elon for including us in the nationally recognized “It Takes a Village” Project.”

Launched in 2008, the Village Project began as an after-school reading/tutoring project, connecting Elon’s School of Education students with children who find reading daunting. In the beginning, tutoring sessions took place on Elon’s campus. The program later moved to May Memorial Library in downtown Burlington, N.C., then to the Burlington School campus, back to Elon’s campus and, finally, within ABSS elementary and middle schools.

Several research studies outlining the successes of the Village Project have been published in education peer-reviewed journals over the years. In addition to its primary focus on literacy, the Village Project has created other learning opportunities, including Science in the Village, Music in the Village, The Little Village (ages 3-5) and Summer in the Village. The Village Project has also worked with Alamance Community College to support parents and families associated with the project who wish to improve their English language skills.

Along with funding from Oak Foundation, the Village Project also receives support from community partners First Presbyterian Church Burlington, Wells Fargo and Alamance Community Foundation.

Established in 1983, Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, Africa, India and North America, the foundation has made more than 3,600 grants to nonprofit organizations in approximately 40 countries worldwide.