It all started when a school principal invited a few representatives of the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of REALTORS® to tour a single local elementary school. “After the tour, we were trying to think of a way to say thank you,” says Melissa Poynter, then chairman of the association’s professional standards committee. “Someone suggested we donate a book to the library. Then we thought, why don’t we give every school a book and then go to the schools and read the books?” Poynter then spearheaded the development of a unique book program that involves 115 elementary schools throughout the association’s 11-county area--and scores of association members. The association selects a children’s book each year, donates it to area schools, and the REALTORS® conduct readings and discussions at each of the 115 schools. “It’s an easy, low-cost program that has generated big, big results,” says Poynter. The program brings REALTORS® into the schools, raises their profile in the community, and benefits local students and schools.
For those interested in establishing a similar program, Poynter recommends getting in touch with school superintendents first, then the word filters down to principals and to librarians. Poynter, who now heads up the association’s community education committee, oversees the program and travels to many of the schools. Nearby REALTORS® join her for the annual readings. The first year, REALTORS® read A Hat for Ivan, and they all wore hats. The second year they brought in a children’s book illustrator, and the reading was filmed for the local public television station. The following year, they focused on bullying, not only reading a relevant book but talking extensively with the students about the topic. “We have REALTORS® who’ve been enthusiastic from the beginning. They see just how rewarding it is--the kids are so excited to see us. And it’s really grown,” she says. “At this point, there may be 15 REALTORS® at any individual school at any given moment.”
Poynter has been involved with another innovative program at the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of REALTORS®. The association has developed an interactive software program, “Building your Bucks,” that helps teenagers become financially literate. It’s accessible on the association’s website for community presentations and includes a complete curriculum-based program covering rent-to-own, leasing, credit cards--and credit scores.
In classrooms around the country, individual REALTORS® and REALTOR® association staff members give of their time to read, mentor, and teach local students--and to promote better schools and better communities. Heather DeDona, a REALTOR® in North Carolina, teaches character education once a month at her son’s school. Lana Lavenbarg, a REALTOR® and broker in Oregon, is teamed up with a local elementary student for a year, and they spend 30-45 minutes a week doing reading, homework, puzzles, or games together. The Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS® coordinates a group of members that mentor local elementary school students working to improve their reading skills. Randy Reynolds of Colorado Springs, Colorado, volunteers with Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado to teach students the value of the free enterprise system and financial literacy. And Stephanie Carlson, a former teacher and REALTOR® in Wichita, Kansas, helps out as a substitute teacher and participates in the local middle school Lip Sync production, an incentive program to encourage positive behavior among students.
Angela Tovar Brutsche, director of marketing and communications for the Austin Board of REALTORS®, calls herself a lifelong learner, but through her activities working with Austin students, she’s become something of a lifelong teacher. Brutsche serves as a volunteer in the Junior Achievement program--helping students learn career-related skills--and at Communities in Schools, a Texas-based, business-education partnering organization, where she tutors middle school students. She has mentored at a school that serves a large Hispanic population. “It’s very moving to hear students discuss issues surrounding U.S. citizenship or express their fears about violence in Mexico,” says Brutsche. “Our discussions definitely give me a broader perspective.” Working with area students also keeps her connected to the community. “The more we are connected,” she says, “the stronger our neighborhoods will be.”
Your local United Way chapter can connect you to reading and mentoring programs in area schools.
Junior Achievement sponsors youth education programs at the elementary and high school level.
Created by the Los Angeles Times and cosponsored by the California Association of REALTORS®, HomeWords is designed to help middle and high school students take a critical look at what it will take for them to own or rent a home in the future.
Building Your Bucks4
Online financial course for middle and high school students, created by the Lexington-Bluegrass
Association of REALTORS®.
See related article in Issues in Public Education, “Cultural Issues: The Achievement Gap.”