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South Carolina student-athletes are making difference in the classroom, and not just their own classrooms. Gamecock student-athletes from several sports have volunteered in a mentoring program at Catawba Trail Elementary School in Elgin, S.C., over the last couple of years.

“It’s a program where students that may come from a single parent home or are experiencing behavioral issues or are just behind the curve a little bit in literacy, math or any number of subjects, get a mentor to help them out,” said Simone Wark, a rising senior from the women’s soccer team. “They pair you up with someone they think you would be a good example for, or someone who just needs a little extra attention.”

“I wanted to get involved because I love kids,” said former beach volleyball student-athlete Macie Tendrich, who earned her degree in Public Health in May after being paired initially with a second grade girl and remained with her for the last two years. “There are so many community service opportunities, but this one really stuck out to me.”

The mentors visit the young students once per week during the school year.

“I’ll spend one or two hours with them,” said rising senior Delaney Wood from the beach volleyball team, who was paired with a first grader. “If they’re struggling in reading or math, we’ll go sit in the library and work on schoolwork. In the case with the girl I was paired, she struggles with discipline. She’s very happy-go-lucky, with lots of energy, so I go with her at recess to play games, and then we’ll sit and talk about getting her social manners under control and things like that.”

“I would spend an hour just eating lunch with him, talk about how his day is going, practice some reading and complete some reading exercises,” said Wark, who worked with a fourth grader last spring and is majoring in sport and entertainment management with a minor in public relations and advertising. “We’d even go kick the soccer ball around at recess because he liked to play soccer.”

“We would go to the library and read together,” Tendrich said. “At first her reading wasn’t great, but it got a lot better. We would go over her homework together and anything she was learning at the time. This past year, I’d have lunch with her and be her lunch buddy. Then we’d go play tetherball together.”

Some of the children may be shy at first, but once the student-athletes earn their trust, there is a terrific bond in the one-on-one relationship.

“When we first met, I was doing a lot of the talking,” said Wood, a sport and entertainment management major. “It was really cool over the following weeks how she would open up to me more and more. It’s very exciting when they trust you more, and they tell you more.”

The Gamecock student-athletes are often busy with classes and athletics responsibilities, but being active in the community is an important part of their experience at the University.

“I’m looking to get into coaching with younger kids,” Wood said. “I wanted to experience being with younger kids in a different environment. Our team is very involved in the community, and this was a great opportunity to be a part of the community.”

“This was a topic that hit home for me,” said Wark. “I’m learning about some of the literacy rates in South Carolina, and it’s shocking to see that something like 30 percent of fifth grade students can’t read at a fifth grade level. Growing up, I was fortunate to have two parents to come home to, and my mom would read to my brother and me every night when I was younger. Being literate translates to the rest of your life. Reading pays off for the rest of your life, so if I could do something that would make an impact on a child for a lifetime, that’s the best thing I can do with the position that I’m in.”

Their time with each student may be brief, but the Gamecocks feel gratification in that they are making a difference.

“It definitely made a difference,” Tendrich said. “At first it took her a little bit of time to open up and get used to meeting with me, but it definitely made a difference. Being with her for two years, I could see the progress that she had made, whether it was academically or socially. She started calling me her best friend, and that was so touching. To hear her say that, I knew I was making a difference in her life just with the hour we’d spend together each week.”

“The teachers have expressed how much of a difference there has been, and that his behavioral issues had subsided a lot,” Wark said. “The fact that he was progressing really well makes me want to come back and keep helping. I think it’s done more for me, honestly.”

“It’s really cool to hear from the teachers when they send an email that tells us how much progress the kids are making,” Wood said. “It really is cool to see that improvement and know that we’re making some kind of an impact, whether it’s socially or at school. The kids really look forward to it. It’s one of the best community service things that we do because you know you’re making an impact on these kids. It’s cool at recess when we play with them because they show us off to their friends.”

Some Gamecock student-athletes will continue to work with the children when school resumes in the fall and those that have graduated have been recruiting their former teammates to get involved.