Village Project receives $50K grant from ABSS to resume ‘Little Village’ effort

The "Little Village" first began in 2014 and focused on pre-Kindergarten children in Alamance County. The program was suspended during the pandemic and will pick back up at four ABSS schools.

For more than 15 years, the It Takes a Village project has been a staple at Elon University, a shining example of the university’s commitment to its community and, in turn, the students of the community.

Elon University’s Summer in the Village program hosted Alamance-Burlington School System K through 12 students for two weeks to assist them with mathematics and science through experiential learning. The students also participated in music classes that helped them improve their math skills.

The Village Project, as it has come to be known, has consistently expanded since its inception in 2008. With several branches already flourishing under the Village Project umbrella — Summer in the Village, Music in the Village, the Start Early in Medicine Program — another branch has now been revived due to a $50,000 grant over three years from the Alamance Burlington School System.

The “Little Village” began in 2014 and focused on pre-K children in Alamance County. The program was suspended during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as schools focused most of their resources on helping students in kindergarten through fifth grade not fall behind or catch up.

The time to divert some of that time, energy and resources back to focusing on pre-K students is now, with plans for the Little Village to return for the 2023-24 academic year at ABSS pre-K programs at Eastlawn Elementary, Haw River Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary and South Graham Elementary.

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“There’s never a time too early, you can never invest too much,” said Sydney Simmons, program coordinator for the Village Project.

The original grant proposal states, “We know from our research the benefits of introducing 3- and 4-year-olds and their parents to early literacy, emergent numeracy, play and social interactions with other same-aged students.”

“Why not re-engage this program that we know was successful, made impacts and give them a fair chance … so they can go into kindergarten and have great success without feeling like they’ve had limited opportunities?” Simmons added.

Talks between ABSS and Elon about the grant began before Simmons, a 2020 Elon graduate, began as program coordinator while the program was still under the stewardship of Jean Rattigan-Rohr, founder of the Village Project who retired earlier this year. Heading into her first full year working to support the Village Project, Simmons strives to continue the legacy of Rattigan-Rohr.

Travella Free, left, Jean Rattigan-Rohr, center, and Sydney Simmons photographed at Elon University’s Summer in the Village program, which hosted ABSS K-12 students for two weeks to assist them with mathematics and science through experiential learning.

During the fall 2022 semester, the 300 ABSS students who participated in the Village Project displayed impressive results in their post-assessments scores. At North Graham Elementary School, third-grade students spelling passing rate exploded from 16% to 58%, fourth-grade math scores from 43% to 77% and fifth-grade comprehension scores from 42% to 90%. These results, Simmons believes, will be replicated at each of the other eight schools the Village Project operates in, and will also be seen when the Little Village restarts in the fall.

“I’m positive that the impact will justify not only that this program is necessary but that it should be funded in a way where we’re able to keep it afloat for the long term,” Simmons said.

Over the years, the Village Project has undergone many iterations and developed to help Alamance County students at every level and in different areas. With the support of 150 Elon student tutors and several community partnerships, including ABSS, the Alamance County Public Libraries and Harvest Table, more than 300 ABSS students have been provided with the tools to flourish academically.

The addition of the Little Village will continue with that plan and, in typical Elon fashion, does so for the betterment of the overall community.

“This work will change not just the future of our children,” Simmons said, “but the future of Alamance County. We see that when you invest in our kids, they come back to the community or they stay in the community. They may go to Elon or they may even be a part of the program. You have so much that you can look forward to.”