The Aiken Rotary Club has gotten the opportunity to help some struggling elementary school students, and club President Joe Shields wants the members to support the literacy project.

“We got 29 people to sign up, and we’ll probably get more,” Shields said. “My wife Gail and I are signing up and looking forward to it.”

Lisa Fallaw, East Aiken’s principal, was joined by three faculty members at the meeting to describe the project, which will focus on fourth- and fifth-graders who have stumbled on reading as they have reached those grade levels.

Shields was joined by club members Collette Ball and Sharon Rodgers in developing the project, along with Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt, also a club member.

East Aiken is unique as an arts-integration school, intended to help students build their confidence and creativity through the arts, Fallaw said. The faculty members were instructional coach Davina Truitt, media specialist Melanie Starks and reading interventionist Kim Entzminger.

They pointed out that 76 percent of the children qualify for free and reduced lunch fees, based on family income and the number of children. Unfortunately, parents may be more concerned about putting food on the table or in other cases, may not see any value in their child’s education.

Entzminger recalls a mother arriving at the school for a conference to talk about her son’s academic needs.

“She said he’ll be all right when he goes to jail like his older brother,” Entzminger said. “The kid had no one at home to disappoint. Through this program, you may be that person who matters. You can be critical to that.”

Fourth and fifth grade are bridges for children. If they cannot read or are not as interested as they were in earlier grades, the educators said, they will be far more at risk of dropping out. That result goes back generations, but at one time, young people could find good work in a factory or join the military.

If one cannot fill out a job application or read sufficiently, he will not qualify for either option. East Aiken plans to put together small groups of children with a volunteer, said Starks. The students will be selected on the basis of data information.

“It’s a huge deal for the kids,” Starks said and reiterated, “They don’t want to upset anyone. It’s a major incentive for them to have adults who really care. You can really make an impact.”

Shields is pleased that Starks will provide training for the Rotary members. She and the other East Aiken educators “did a great job of putting on the program today,” Shields said. “We want to set up teams of five people who could be self-managed and determine who will be there on a weekly basis. This is good start, and I’m happy about the club’s response.”