For the Kids
Teacher and two volunteers honored

  By Ellie Phillips
October 01, 1999


Hot Springs School District

Many adults have a hard time communicating with teenagers or pre-teens. But Delores Butcher was reaching out to Hot Springs Middle School students who did not speak English before they even met her.

In the last five years, Butcher has taught English to 16 Hispanic students. She also helped the children and their families adjust to life in Arkansas, which has the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the United States.

"They would have learned English eventually, but the transition would not have been as fast or as successful without her help," said Bob Covington, the guidance counselor who first called on Butcher to help with seven Hispanic students in the fall of 1996. The parents of Carlos and Elizabeth Fernandez opened a Mexican restaurant in the area, and the others found jobs with Butcher's help. Some of the children had been working at meat-packing plants in Mexico, and only one of them spoke English.

Born in Sicily to a Sicilian mother and Native American father, Butcher lived in her father's native Texas before moving to Arkansas. She speaks seven languages, including Spanish; more importantly, she speaks the language of children. Impressed with her teaching style, the principal at Park Primary School hired Butcher this year to be a full-time teacher's aide.

"She's a worker and a half," said Debbie Shelor, the secretary at Park. "She had substituted for us before, and when we had this teacher's aide position open up, we just jumped at the chance to hire her full-time."

Butcher now works with advanced students as well as those who need extra help. She also runs the school's "Big Room," a "last resort" for students who misbehave in class.

"They first go to detention, then they come here," she said, towering over the desks and orange chairs arranged to separate unruly students from their classes and from each other. "I rarely see the same face twice."

She does not have a college degree, but Butcher has taken college courses in education and attended numerous workshops and seminars.

"I've always liked teaching," said Butcher, who still works nights at a Kroger grocery store. "I like middle school. They think they know it all, until they see the book you're opening for them. Then they want what you got. . . . I like primary school for Spanish. They pick it up so fast, and they want to show it off."

One group of advanced second-graders leaves a regular reading class at Park each week to learn at a faster pace with Butcher. They gathered around the "Big Room's" semi-circular table on a recent September morning to read Spanish rhymes.

Butcher sat across from them in her own child-sized chair.

"You must think and pay attention," she said firmly, addressing two boys engaged in a poking war. She only had to say it once. The boys instantly dropped their hands, watching Butcher with awe as she turned her attention back to the girl who had been reading a rhyme.

The girl rattled off the words without pausing, grinning when Butcher said, "Good. Excellent," and pointed a meticulously manicured finger at the next student.

"Okay, repeat after me," she said, leaning across the table. The child's eyes locked onto the book; Butcher's focused on the child.

Moving to Hot Springs in 1995, Butcher sent her daughter, Sunnie Michelle, to a private school. Although Butcher was working full-time at Kroger, she volunteered to teach Spanish classes at Sunnie's new school.

"I wanted to improve whatever school Sunnie was at," Butcher said.

Two years ago, mother and daughter transferred their talents to Hot Springs Middle School. The Butchers wanted more opportunity for Sunnie, who now plays several sports and takes advanced classes at Hot Springs High School.

"She already knew all she was going to get," Butcher said. "She had the same three close friends all through school, and she didn't want to excel because they didn't. She was getting bored, so I said, 'It's time you moved out.' You know you hear such things about the public schools, and I knew it couldn't be that bad. So we looked into it, and we liked what we saw. . . . It was Mr. Covington that really sold us on it."

After meeting Covington, Butcher offered to teach Spanish at the public middle school, but Covington asked her to help students like Salvador Lozano and Yadira Villegas, newcomers to the middle school who had trouble making friends because they could not speak English.

"Now it's easy to make friends," said Yadira, a seventh grader whose favorite subject is English.

Salvador, whose favorite subject is math, remembers drawing pictures with Butcher, who uses art projects and puzzles to teach English. She also took Salvador and some others out for meals, teaching them how to order, and to movies.

"I stayed with them all day at first," said Butcher, who arranged for the students to talk to Spanish classes at the school. "Then I started to wean them out. You like computers? Try a computer class. You like art? Well, here's this art class. . . . Pretty soon they were gone all day."

She has also visited Salvador's parents, and other parents, at home. Most visits are friendly, but Butcher is not afraid to be unpopular.

"I helped some of them get weekend jobs, for extra money," she said. "When they find out how much money they can make, they want to quit school and work full-time. So I go into the homes and bring the child back. You have to explain to the parents, 'It doesn't work that way here.' "

When Salvador's sister, Mariah, considered leaving school, Butcher intervened.

"I said, 'You can drop out of school, stay home and do nothing,'" Butcher said. "'You can finish school and work at McDonald's for minimum wages for the rest of your life. Or you can stay in school, become a teacher, and go back home, back to Mexico, to help others who want to come over get ready.' She said her family can't afford to send her to college. But I said, 'Don't worry about that. There is so much money in Hot Springs for you to go to college.' With all the help we've already gotten for these kids, I know we can get them through school. I'll find a way"

And Salvador said Mariah has been at school every day since Butcher's visit. And the Fernandez children, among the first to work with Butcher, are now actively involved high school students, Covington said.

With help from Covington and other charitable people, Butcher provides the needier families with food and clothing. And she continues to remind chronically absent students and their families that going to school is not only the law, it's a necessity.

"A lot of these kids worked in slaughterhouses before they came here," she said, reaching for a tissue to wipe tears from her brown eyes. "They would take a live cow, slit its throat, and dress it up for you to eat. That's the world they're coming from. They're more adult than other kids the same age. . . . Now the challenge is getting them to school. Because I know as long as they're in school, they're going to learn something. And that's a better life."

North Little Rock School District

Steve Jenkins may not look like an international man of mystery, but secrets and surprises do surround him.

The North Little Rock businessman owns Jenkins Enterprises, an imports and distribution firm just off Prothro Junction that was bustling with business late on a recent Friday afternoon.

The receptionist, along with about 40 other employees, wore shorts, a polo shirt, and a smile as bright as the orange sun that Steve's father chose for the company logo shortly after founding Jenkins Enterprises in 1976.

But the five clocks on Steve Jenkins' wall, set for time zones all over the nation and world, showed that this was no hometown operation.

"I'm trying to pick up Japanese," said Jenkins, also wearing a polo shirt and casual pants. "We're really at a disadvantage, because they can speak English, but we can't understand them when they talk to each other."

Arranged on his walls and bookshelves, numerous awards from various schools further suggested that Jenkins, leaning across his desk to confide, "I'm not a big education guy," was indeed a puzzler.

After all, Shara Brazear says Jenkins has significantly helped public schools in the North Little Rock District by sponsoring good-behavior programs, speaking to Career Orientation classes, and mentoring students in Vital Links, a summer internship program for sixth-graders.

"He is definitely making a great impact in the lives of children in the North Little Rock community," said Brazear, the district communication specialist. "Every time I call, he helps me out somehow."

But in 1983, Jenkins abandoned his second year of college to get married and join the family business. "I said, 'Man, this school's for the birds," he said, laughing. "I'm ready to get into some business." Quickly serious again, he added, "But I've had opportunities open to me that probably most students don't have."

When he teaches economics to sixth-graders in the Junior Achievement Program, Jenkins emphasizes that, "the longer you stay in school, the more money you're likely to make."

One of Jenkins' favorite projects, Junior Achievement puts a practical spin on economics by sending volunteer businessmen into public schools to teach an hour-long class each week for six weeks.

"The brain surgeon makes more than the physical therapist, who probably makes more than the McDonald's worker," he said, using a notepad to scribble a graph like the one he used in a classroom last year.

Leaning back in his chair, Jenkins continued, "But no one job is necessarily more valuable than any other. I've never had brain surgery and probably never will, but I went to McDonald's today, and I sure was glad that guy behind the counter was working."

Recently elected president of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, Jenkins plans to encourage other members to participate next year in Junior Achievement, which he helped bring to the district.

"Kids need to be well-rounded when they get into the real world," he said. "They need to learn not only the three R's, but how to communicate with each other, how to get along with different cultures and different ways of thinking."

Students can best learn how to cooperate with people from diverse backgrounds in public schools, said Jenkins, who learned the meaning of the district's motto, "The Choice," when his daughter Jessica turned five years old.

"We choose to have our children in public schools," he said. "We looked at schools, public and private, and we found that North Little Rock public schools are one of this area's best-kept secrets."

Both Jenkins and his wife, Julie, grew up in the North Little Rock Public School district and graduated from what is now North Little Rock High School East Campus.

Their older daughter, Jessica, started ninth grade there this year; the younger, Katherine, entered sixth grade at Poplar Street Middle School; and their son, John Allen, began second grade at Crestwood Elementary.

While his wife leads the parent-teacher association, Jenkins devotes time, money and energy not only to his children's schools but also to Lakewood Middle School and all five elementary schools in the district.

"My wife and I started getting involved with the schools that our kids went to," he said. But then, "We just got excited. There is a ton of tremendous opportunity for everyone who wants to get involved."

Others are sometimes surprised to hear that Jenkins sends his children to public schools when he can afford to do otherwise. "I get really frustrated when people denigrate our public schools without ever setting foot inside one," he said. "When you think about all the hundreds of thousands of students in public schools, and there are maybe thousands in private schools, that's not really comparing apples and apples."

In the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre and other school violence, Jenkins' optimism is refreshing and inspiring, Brazear said.

"It's nice to know that a leader like Steve Jenkins takes time for the things that matter most," she said.

And how does Jenkins juggle his job, family and community activities while teaching a Sunday school class and regularly attending services at Park Hill Baptist Church?

"Put it on your calendar, and then you've got to do it," he said, pointing toward the calendar covering his large wooden desk. "People have time for what they make time for."

PTA leader
Fort Smith School District

When Betty Jacobs, president of the Arkansas parent-teacher association, needed someone to lead the singing of "God Bless America" at a regional conference in September, she thought immediately of Vice-President Jeannie Cole.

"She's someone you can always call on," said Jacobs, keynote speaker at the Northeast Arkansas PTA conference last month.

After a morning of workshops at Batesville Southside High School, a Cub Scout group was scheduled to sing the patriotic song. But the night before the scheduled appearance, the troop leader had called Jacobs with bad news: the group's taped accompaniment had been misplaced.

Jacobs wasn't worried, because Cole's strong soprano voice anchors the choir at Westark Church of Christ.

"I thought, 'Oh, Jeannie can do it,'" laughed Jacobs. She and Cole, along with other PTA members attending the conference, were staying together at a Batesville hotel. "I asked her at like 12 last night."

"Can do" seems to be Cole's motto. A member of the Fort Smith School Board, she has been an outstanding volunteer and a PTA champion throughout her children's public school careers.

When her son graduates next year, don't tell Cole she will no longer have children in Fort Smith public schools. "They're all my children," she said. "The public schools are really the backbone of the community. We don't want to lose that stabilizing force, but parental involvement has got to be there."

If stable families flee the public schools, children who need guidance will be deserted, she said.

"And we can't let that happen," she said. A doctor's wife, Cole's soft brown hair and pastel-colored clothes offer a textural contrast to her strict adherence to Christian values and her determination to instill those values in as many children as possible.

"You might not enter their homes, and they might not go to your church, but you can certainly reach them in public schools," she said.

The same devotion to children that inspired her to participate in several medical missions to Guyana guided Cole to join the PTA at her children's elementary school. In 1991 she became president.

As her children grew older, Cole became more involved with the Fort Smith Council of PTAs She served as council president from 1994 to 1996, and then won several offices at the state level.

"It just sort of mushroomed," she said. "I certainly never planned to be vice-president of Arkansas PTA."

She never planned to serve a three-year term on the Board of Education, either.

Superintendent Benny Gooden asked her to run for an uncontested 3-year position when Cole told him she would serve the last year of a resigned school board member's unfinished term.

"He said, 'Well, we've already got two people running for that, but there's this open 3-year position,'" Cole said. "I thought, 'Well, yeah, I can do that.'"

While singing and leading a training session for PTA officers in Batesville, Cole's presence was also being felt across the state at the Family Care Fair in Fort Smith, which invites hundreds of families onto public school grounds each year.

In 1995 the Co-Mend Council, a community-based health organization for Sebastian and Crawford Counties, organized the first of these annual fairs. Cole, who served on that council, credits Gooden with making the fair a first-year success.

"It happened to fall on the same day the Health Department was giving kindergarteners their shots," Cole said. "(Mr. Gooden) arranged for the kids to be bused from the Health Department to the fair."

At the fair, the children and their families receive free health screening of all kinds.

"It really targets lower-income families in certain areas of Fort Smith," said Cole, who has watched the fair expand its offerings in recent years and attract increasing numbers of people. "There are games and free food for everyone. . . . Parents can have their cholesterol tested while their kids go on a tour of a fire truck."

Serving on the the Mayor's Task Force on Youth, Cole's "can-do" attitude impressed Mayor Ray Baker, as did her passion for helping young people.

"The task force was a partnership between the PTA, businesses, schools, churches and homes to prevent crime by providing after-school activities for young people," said Baker, who in 1998 gave Fort Smith's "Spirit of the Frontier Award" to Cole.

"It's an award we have to recognize individuals who have made a difference in the community with their visionary ideas and dreams," Baker said. "We just really have a frontier spirit in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the award is clear because they're visionaries.

"She's just a fine person," he continued. "She sets her sights on improving the world around her."

And she plans to continue helping her children - all of them -- for many more years.

"I like to be active," she said. "I'd rather be doing something than sitting around."

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