06/11/08 — Golden K Kiwanis' tutelage keeps kids on right track

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Golden K Kiwanis' tutelage keeps kids on right track

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 11, 2008 1:45 PM

Most weeks during the school year, Archie Bynum sets up camp at a table outside a fourth-grade classroom at Northeast Elementary School at Pikeville, gathering several students around for a math lesson.

They may check multiplication and division tables one day, work with decimals, geometry and a little bit of algebra the next.

But at 69, Bynum says it's all about helping children feel good about themselves.

He holds a degree in economics, but is now retired, having been director of international sales for Carolina Turkeys before it became Butterball. His interest in working with children, though, stems from his own role as a parent.

"We have a son that's gifted and talented who graduated from Carolina Law School," he said. "But we also have a son with learning disabilities so we were challenged to work with him all the way through his academic career.

"I wanted to be able to help any kid that needed help no matter what his challenges were in life. My philosophy is learning should be fun, it should be challenging."

Bynum works very little with calculators and computers, preferring more of the "pencil and paper" method of instruction.

"I'm trying to create an atmosphere of them doing, challenging themselves and learning concepts of math," he said.

The response, he says, has been fantastic.

"They have been drilled so much about test scores," he explains. "I have been creating an environment where there's going to be right and wrong but there's going to be a learning process -- you're going to grow and we're going to do it over and over until we get the concept."

And while each time he meets with students they have tasks to complete, there is a greater take-away message he hopes to impart.

"When they leave I always make sure that they leave with two emotions -- that they feel good about themselves and that they accomplish more than they think they could," he said.

A member of the Golden K Kiwanis, Bynum four years ago joined the ranks of other members who have been volunteering at the school for nearly 17 years. One thing keeps him coming back, he says.

"To me the most important thing is that they use their little minds that they were given," he said. "They get so excited when they learn something. ...

"In my thinking, they always have more ability than they think they do. At this point in my life, helping a child is the most gratifying thing that I can do."

Buzz Baker also has spent more than four years working to help first graders at Northeast Elementary School learn to read.

Some days his efforts center around teaching them to pronounce difficult words, while other times he provides assistance with math problems.

But it's always about the "light bulb moment."

"When they catch on and say, 'OK, I know what you're talking about,' that's the most rewarding," Baker says.

At 75, he says the "grandpa image" perhaps appeals to the children.

"They're smart kids," he points out. "It's just that they really haven't had a chance."

So for him, knowing there is a need keeps him returning year after year.

"I think really the issue is, I may be the only male representative in that child's life for all I know," he said. "I don't ever try to pry to find that out."

It has been humbling to feel he's making a difference, he says, and it's always great to see youngsters do well in their classwork and on tests.

"Now, have I had any impact? I don't know because I'm only out there for an hour or two a week, but it makes me think that maybe sometime during the year that I did have an impact," he said. "It's a highlight in your day, especially in my retirement. It's something I never thought I would do, but I did and I feel very rewarded."

The Golden K's is a diverse group, says its president, Bill Winslow. Retired bankers, doctors, businessmen and military are but a few of the backgrounds represented, and any are welcome to participate in the school effort, he said.

Winslow, retired from the banking business, has worked with kindergarten students for more than five years.

"A lot of it is just trying to help them with reading and math, reading stories," he said. "A lot of them, I think, just lack people paying attention to them.

"I think just being with them and showing that you care about them is just as important as teaching them anything in kindergarten."

Developing relationships with the young students is its own reward, Winslow said.

"One teacher this year had a compliment for me," he said. "She said one of the children had said, 'You spend more time with her than her mother did.'

"You can tell the ones that their parents work with them at home."

It's admittedly sad, and often heartbreaking, to realize some children lack guidance and attention from their parents, Winslow said. But that just makes what he does all the more important.

"You get to know these students pretty well, you stay with them two or three months," he said. "I got more out of it than they do, probably. I don't know that I teach them anything other than that we are there."

Retired Air Force Col. Bob Rawl, credited with launching the program at Northeast, said it started primarily at the kindergarten level. Kiwanis International, he said, had a long-held priority for helping young children.

"In subsequent years, we found that the need was as bad in the higher grades as it was in kindergarten," he explained. "We have volunteers in almost all of the grades now."

At the start, the club produced only a handful of volunteers, Rawl said. This year, 12 regularly showed up each week.

Gail Richards, principal at Northeast, called the retirees "phenomenal."

"They make a big difference for our kids. They come in with a smile," she said. "They have so many different skills to share -- some of them do science, some are literature and English. The knowledge that they're able to share with our students is just so broad."

While the grandfatherly appeal may be there, Ms. Richards said it extends beyond that.

"I think it's a male image, plus the fact that they're willing to come and spend their time," she said.