It's an hour after school, but Miss Peggy holds the rapt attention of 23 kids seated cross-legged on the cafeteria floor at Tynes Elementary. And she's teaching about the Ten Commandments. Peggy Raulerson, a 69-year-old grandmother, persuades the kids to write letters on their fingertips to recall each commandment.
Ever since Florida's First Coast YMCA adopted the S.A.Y. Yes! curriculum, a biblically based mentoring program developed by Here's Life Inner City taught primarily by volunteers like Miss Peggy, many kids in Clay County don't want to be picked up early from the school's extended-stay program.
Though neighboring Jacksonville follows the nationwide model of anchoring S.A.Y. Yes! in churches or community centers, Clay County's YMCA broke new ground when it embraced the curriculum for the 1,400 kids in 24 after-school programs in suburban, largely white Orange Park.
"We were good at child care and programs and facilities, but didn't have much to offer in terms of character development and tutoring," says Tina Sullivan, training and curriculum coordinator for YMCA in Clay County. "S.A.Y. Yes! was good at both."
Tina's move was bold. Until S.A.Y. Yes!, Jessie Hatcher witnessed kids pray only occasionally during 18 years as a YMCA coordinator.
"It's amazing for these kids to sit still this late in the day and pay close attention to Miss Peggy," she says. "Many of these kids are going back to church." Last Easter, Jessie's 10-year-old son, Christian, brought home from S.A.Y. Yes! a set of "Resurrection eggs" to explain Christ's death and resurrection to family gathered for the holiday.
Dr. Paige French, who directs S.A.Y. Yes! in Jacksonville for Here's Life Inner City and mentors Tina, hopes to see YMCAs all over the nation adopt the program. Several YMCAs elsewhere in Florida, and some in New York, have asked about the curriculum.
"We're really pushing the Christian character-development program in schools," Tina says. "We took a huge leap of faith and said, 'We're Christian based; this is what you can expect.'"