“This is my thing.”
Student finds path helping local kids learn to read
Junior Temisha Simpkins has found her direction working with children at Columbia's St. Lawrence Place as a part of the AmeriCorps VISTAs program.
Temisha Simpkins loves playing with her “kids.” The junior psychology major thought she didn’t want to work with children at first because it would be too difficult, but her summer position working with Columbia children has changed her mind.
Simpkins is one of four University of South Carolina students serving across the city this summer as a part of the AmeriCorps VISTAs program. She has spent her summer days helping children younger than 12 read at St. Lawrence Place, a nonprofit organization in Columbia dedicated to transitioning single-mother families “from homeless to home.”
“As soon as I stepped in the room, I just loved it. The kids are so sweet,” she says. “I felt at home there already. These are my kids.”
Simpkins spends her days working as a part of St. Lawrence Place’s literacy-based summer camp, a day camp working with 40 children to prevent their reading scores from declining during the summer months. She spends every afternoon reading with the children, helping them learn new words. She says she loves to see the students grow and learn new things.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for having this opportunity,” Simpkins says. “They started out really struggling and now they can read the words that they thought they couldn’t and they are so proud of themselves. They are more confident readers.”
So far she has found her classwork in counseling, child development and special education to be helpful as she works with the children at camp.
“I use techniques that I wouldn’t have known about if I didn’t take those classes,” she says.
Between her classes and her experience this summer, Simpkins is considering pursuing a career in early childhood education and maybe working with Teach For America when she graduates.
The university’s four summer associate VISTAs are serving for eight consecutive weeks, for 40 hours a week, at three different organizations in the Midlands: the Richland Library, the Conservation Voters of South Carolina and St. Lawrence Place. All of their work focuses on literacy.
Aside from their associate meetings with the Office of Student Engagement, the students run into each other “on the job,” Simpkins says. She takes her kids to the library to get books from Benjamin Youngblood, a junior international business major, and Louise White, a junior international studies major.
When the program is over, Simpkins plans to stay on at St. Lawrence Place to continue working with the children after school.
“I don’t want it to be over,” she says. “I didn’t see myself doing this, but this is my thing.”