When Jackson area schools closed their doors last year due to COVID-19, Donna McLaurin helped her grandchildren transition to distance learning.

What did Ms. McLaurin, a retired high school guidance counselor discover helped her grandchildren excel? Organization, a daily schedule, encouraging words and support from SR1 were important.

Ms. McLaurin’s grandson, Nicolas McLaurin, was a fourth grader at St. Richard Catholic School, and her granddaughter, Mikhala McLaurin, was an eighth grader at St. Joseph Catholic School. They have been SR1 C.O.O.L.™ Scholars for all of their academic careers.

When their schools stopped offering in-person classes, both Nicolas and Mikhala spent school days with Mrs. McLaurin while their parents worked.

SR1 provided a hotspot so that Nicolas and Mikhala could access the internet using a laptop and tablet.

“I don’t have internet,” Mrs. McLaurin said. “I mentioned to Dorlisa (Hutton) at SR1 that we were using my cellphone for the internet, and she said, ‘I have a hotspot you can check out.’

“That’s the kind of support that SR1 provides.”

Mikhala was able to complete her assignments pretty much by herself, Mrs. McLaurin said.

“It was something new and much of the responsibility was her own,” Mrs. McLaurin said. “She realized she had to work as hard as she did when she was at school.”

To keep up with assignments for Nicolas, Mrs. McLaurin asked his mother to write down everything he needed to complete each day and place the information in a three-ring binder, so she could check of each assignment.

In turn, Mrs. McLaurin recorded notes to his mother about any of his schoolwork that needed additional review. “I would write a note and say, ‘Please do this again,’” she said.

Mrs. McLaurin set aside space at her dining room table where Nicolas could use his tablet, which had the apps he needed. She usually kept a bowl with apples, bananas, tangerines and grapes on the table, so he could have a snack within reach when he liked and played WJSU-FM softly in the background.

Nicolas clocked in at 8 a.m. and Mrs. McLaurin often sat beside him without saying a word. At 10 a.m. each day, there was a mathematics class taught using Zoom technology and 2 p.m., a reading class taught using Zoom.

Mrs. McLaurin encouraged Nicolas to continue working on his classes throughout the morning, letting him take breaks as needed. “It was a full day,” she said.

On days when the weather permitted, Mrs. McLaurin allowed Nicolas to take his tablet and complete schoolwork outside while seated at a picnic table.

As part of a crafts project outside, the two planted a butterfly and hummingbird garden. “I took pictures of him digging, and he had to write a paragraph about the garden,” she said.

To encourage her grandchildren, Mrs. McLaurin often provided a treat when schoolwork was done for the day. “I’d take Nicolas and his sister to Sonic for slushes,” she said.

SR1 stayed in touch, she said, and mailed activity packets to students when they couldn’t participate in activities in person.

“I can’t say enough good things about SR1,” Mrs. McLaurin said. “I am so happy that my grandchildren are involved in it.”

SR1 provides extra help with subjects when needed and has offered tutoring on Saturdays, which both Mikhala and Nicolas have attended, Mrs. McLaurin said.

Mikhala has participated in SR1’s Robotics Team at SR1, which has taken part in several competitions. Both Mikhala and Nicolas attended SR1’s summer camp when it was held at Millsaps College, and Mikhala attended SR1’s 2020 hybrid summer camp

“SR1 is the best kept secret in Mississippi,” Mrs. McLaurin said. “It’s made up of good people who run a really good program.”

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