Retired Principal Turns His Focus to the Time After School

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 2008

When Jerry Hill retired as principal of Ball's Bluff Elementary School in June, he didn't end his involvement with his students -- he just changed his hours.

Hill started an after-school homework club at Leesburg's Heritage apartment complex in October. Every Wednesday, about 30 Ball's Bluff students go there to get a snack and help with their homework before their parents pick them up.

The club is one of just a few after-school programs for elementary schoolchildren in Loudoun County, and it operates independently of the school system.

"I'm just trying to give them a sense of community," Hill said.

Working outside the bounds of the school system is new for Hill, who was wearing a "Got Diversity?" shirt at a recent club meeting and said he also is interested in doing diversity training in the schools and elsewhere in the county.

"I retired because I really wanted to shift gears," he said.

Kids stream into the multipurpose room at the apartment complex when the bus drops them off after school. A poster with the Pledge of Allegiance and a map of the world, put up by a volunteer immediately before the children come and taken down right after they leave, are all that adorn the walls.

At a meeting this month, the kids dropped their coats and backpacks on a sofa, picked up a snack of Chex Mix and juice drinks, and sat in a circle on the floor for a pep talk and mini-geography lesson from Hill.

They talked about respect. They talked about how their day went. And they looked at a map of the world. Hill asked one girl to find the United States, another to find Africa, a boy to find El Salvador.

"How many people said they were from El Salvador?" Hill asked. More than half the kids raised their hands.

Then they split off to tables and took out their homework.

Even though the homework club has no official ties to the school system, Hill has snagged a few Ball's Bluff teachers to volunteer to tutor the kids. Other volunteers are community activists and retirees.

The children do math problems and write vocabulary sentences as the volunteers peek over their shoulders and offer suggestions. When the students finish their assignments, they can color or play games.

Some of the fifth-graders played a multiplication game with dice. "I like it," said Anastasia Carey, 11.

Hill said he is hoping to expand the program to Mondays as well, if he can find the volunteers. And he said he'd like to have workshops for parents at night, although he acknowledges limits on his time.

He said he was trying to link parents and teachers.

"How do [parents] see themselves as part of the school system? And how do [teachers] see themselves as part of the community?" he asked.

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