The building of any effective organization requires passion and people working together for a common goal. That formula brought the Eagle and Dove Academy into existence and has made possible its twenty-one-year success story.
In 1995, Joe and Rita Chapman, Executive Directors of Freedom Road Ministries, had been praying about doing something to help the schools in the south end academically. They contacted Dave Speas, who had done some educational work for them and had just finished a year as a Student Assistant at Cedarville Schools. They asked him to research the possibilities so they could build something that would help the students in their end of town become successful in school.
Dave headed to the Springfield Library to begin his task. As he was walking up the walk, Sue Lohnes, a city-school administrator, was coming out. They greeted one another, and then began to discuss the project Dave was headed into the library to research. Dave wanted to know about the children who had passed all five parts of the Ohio Proficiency test because he knew from experience what caused children to fail. Most studies do not show why students do well when being tested. Sue had just come back from a conference in Columbus and she gave him a five-year report from the Columbus City Schools with data on the students who had passed all five parts of the state test.
Combing through the data Dave discovered there were three key correlations to the students’ success. The leading correlation, by 9 percentage points, was that the students who did well on the Ohio Proficiency Test had done well on the end-of-year second-grade tests. The second factor was the socio-economic level of the students, and the third was involvement in activities outside the home and school. Since they had compiled the information and listed the found elements in the order of seeming importance, it was just a matter of seeing which of the stated factors Dave and his team could implement into a plan to help elementary students.
Rita, Joe, and Dave sat down and took a look at Dave’s plan. The first part was to set up an after-school remedial reading program for second graders using a strong basal program that would lift students to their reading level. Discussion covered the costs and finding an area in the Freedom Road building that could be converted to rooms that would be quiet enough for a school-like atmosphere.
The Rigby reading program from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt was chosen. The team set up the curriculum to serve an after-school program, and they laid out lessons for each reading level. The Rigby Program had been researched by the University of Indiana for five years and supported Ohio’s state standards for elementary-grade reading.
Secondly, the children would be fed a meal before they went home, allowing parents and guardians to use their limited financial resources to provide other necessities for their families.
The third part of the program involved bringing outside speakers, activities, and programs to the children during their time at the after-school academy so they could experience things outside the home and school.
The last part was, in some ways, the most important. Hire a teaching staff and a principal. Interviews were held and a staff was hired. The first principal was Mr. Ray Harper who was there three years and then Duane Tron followed him and was with the program for fifteen years.
On the Road to Success—with a Few Speed Bumps
Freedom Road’s board decided to put the plan into action. The reading program was purchased, an eating area was provided (along with the money to buy food), and the search for age-appropriate, beneficial presenters and programs began. Contact and other information was shared with the south-end elementary schools, and the program was off the ground. A small number of students from Kenwood and Perrin Woods came to the Freedom Road building in the beginning.
At first, very few students came to the Eagle and Dove Academy. The program began to grow when Bob Willman, Superintendent of Clark-Shawnee Local Schools, heard Dave talking with another school board member about the program. Mr. Willman visited the program to see what it offered. Soon buses from Reid, Rockway, and Possum Elementary Schools began to pull up at the front door. This guaranteed the viability of the program, serving 75 to 80 students five days a week in the academy’s second year.
Later in the year, the counselor who served Kenwood and Lincoln Elementary Schools came to spend some time at the Academy, and we began to get more Kenwood students. The principal of Horace Mann Elementary also visited, and the next thing we knew more than twenty students from Horace Mann appeared. The Academy was off and running and making a difference in students’ lives.
Then came a bump in the road. Due to a change in state law, funding was decreased for Freedom Road Ministries and outside help was needed. Eagle and Dove supporters Sara Landess and her son John felt the school was helping too many students to let it end. They agreed to fund it until a new funding source was found.
By this time, the Academy was serving around 80 students five days a week and was still providing a meal and outside experiences, such as the Shawnee High School Honor Band, individual members of the Springfield Symphony, horses and other animals, and various interesting programs.
In 2001, Kraig Hissong, a Springfield City Schools administrator, contacted Dave Speas to suggest they apply for a 21st Century grant together. Kraig, Dave and Duane Tron, the Eagle and Dove principal, worked on the application. The grant was awarded for the next year. This meant that the number of students who could be served would jump to at least 125 students. It was amazing to look back at all the people who wanted to help children and how together wonderful things unfolded and with God’s help much success was achieved.
That winter a huge snowstorm hit the area, and the weight of the snow cracked the roof on the building. The program had to move. After praying, Dave had an inkling to call Pastor Julie Carmean of the Central Methodist Church in downtown Springfield. The two of them had met only once. She called him back, invited him to look at the upper floor at the church, and—low and behold—it had sixteen classrooms, the exact number needed.
After the 21st Century Grant expired in five years, the Springfield City Schools took over the funding of the program so the help for the students could continue. Three years ago, the Academy moved from the old Keifer building on Wittenberg Avenue to Schaefer Middle School, where the Eagle and Dove staff today works to raise the reading ability of students.
A Day at Eagle and Dove Academy
If you were to visit a typical day at Eagle and Dove Academy, this is what you would discover:
- The students who are chosen to take part in our program by the city’s ten elementary schools come by bus to Schaefer between 3:05 pm and 3:40 pm.
- They are escorted into the school, they get a snack, and their small-group teacher helps them with their homework.
- At 4:00 pm they say the Pledge of Allegiance and begin their reading program. Classrooms are made up of 6 to 8 students who are reading at the same level.
- They spend the next 80 minutes working on sight words, comprehension, reading with feeling, vocabulary, and other reading skills.
- After the educational part of the program ends for the day, the students wash their hands and go to the cafeteria where they are served an evening meal. The food is provided by Children’s Hunger Alliance.
- At about 5:55 pm, the students are lined up and taken by staff to the buses that will take them back to their home schools.
- The students who are picked up at Schaefer do not ride buses.
- This schedule is followed Monday through Thursday, and the city school schedule is followed through the year. The last day of our annual program is sometime in mid-May.
In the Classrooms
Keeping the students’ attention is paramount, so the classes are fast-moving. Activities change about every ten minutes, even when working on the same skills. Teachers must write their lesson plans in advance, and they are tied to the Ohio state standards. The standard for the day is noted in the plan. For these four days a week, every student who attends is getting an additional 3 to 4 hours of reading intervention.
Computers are available for use to supplement the reading program along with listening stations and televisions.
Students earn awards when they reach different kinds of goals. The most important awards we give are books. Students earn a book whenever they reach a goal, such as learning 20 new sight words, improving their effort, or any other goal set by the teacher. Students can earn up to 24 books for their personal home library just with the mastery of the sight-word list. They can earn a trip to the prize box or treasure chest for 16 straight days of attendance or any other goal set by the teachers or counselor.
At mid-year, the students are tested one-on-one, and they are regrouped according to their newly achieved reading level. That means students who moved more quickly toward their targeted reading level will be with those on the same level. This regrouping helps the staff teach students who are on the same level in their group.
At the end of the year, the students are tested one-on-one again, and an end-of-year report is compiled and shared with the parents, home schools, and central office. A celebration is held before the school year ends, and every student is awarded certificates and trophies, as well as attendance awards for those who earned them.
Beyond the Classroom
The outside activities part of the program is called Opening the World. On the first Monday of each month, a program is brought in for the students. The Raptor Center from Glen Helen comes to do a program and bring raptors to share. The Columbus Zoo brings animals and discusses adaption (and sometimes a cheetah comes, too). Small groups of students from the Springfield Symphony come and play. Mr. Puppet does a reading puppet show, and Cindini the Magician entertains the children with her special skills. Small bands, the Homebound bluegrass group and individual performers have expanded our students’ experiences.
Sowing Seeds and Making a Difference Together
Eagle and Dove has now served almost 5,000 children since its inception. We do not always get to see the difference the Academy makes, but sometimes we do.
While the Academy was at Central Methodist, a young lady and her mother came to see us. (They had to search because the daughter was with us when we were at Freedom Road.) When she came to Eagle and Dove as a second-grader, she had been struggling with reading. Sometime later in her school career, their family moved to the Northwestern School District. They wanted to find us to thank us—and to tell us that she was the valedictorian of her graduating class.
In another example, five of our former students had principle parts in the production of one of their high-school plays.
One day when the Speas family visited Wendy’s restaurant after church this year, they were greeted by two young people working behind the counter. They called Miss Elaina and Mr. Speas by name and introduced themselves. All grown up now, Brenden and Casey had been with Eagle and Dove as second graders when they were struggling students. Brenden was now at Graham High School getting straight As. Casey was at Springfield High School and was having the same success.
We have had a number of our students come back as Peer Tutors to help younger students. Peer tutors are recommended by their teachers at each school and must be doing well in school and be responsible. Their role at Eagle and Dove is to partner with one of our teachers as a helper and, when needed, to tutor one-on-one.
In addition to individual successes, Eagle and Dove has helped the city school district as a whole by helping raise their overall test scores. In the 2015-2016 years, the city schools took a sampling of students who went to the Academy and a sampling of students with similar reading scores who did not and traced them back to 2015 and then through 2016. By the third grade, Eagle and Dove participants scored 12 points higher on the fall to spring reading test than those who did not attend Eagle and Dove. On the fall to winter test, Eagle and Dove students scored 11 points higher as a group.
We are proud to be partners in helping Springfield City students improve their reading scores and find success. If a child can learn to read, he or she will be able to open the door when opportunity knocks.
God has blessed this program with wonderful contributors who have worked together with us to help the most vulnerable in our community—children who need aid to accomplish something seemingly so simple, yet so critical: the ability to read.
Together the load is lighter, the road is more enjoyable and more positive, and loving change can be accomplished. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”