Friends in Focus Helps MCS Students Succeed
Friends in Focus Helps MCS Students Succeed
The non-profit organization works to improve educational opportunities for students in Montgomery County
Montgomery County Schools is committed to shaping globally competitive, community-focused and diversity-valuing individuals — and we know we can’t always do it alone. That’s why we are proud to have organizations like Friends in Focus as a partner in this journey.
Founded in 2012 by a group of friends from Mt. Gilead, Friends in Focus is a non-profit organization that helps improve the educational opportunities for students in Montgomery County. From programs that promote educational enrichment and cultural exposure to scholarship workshops and other opportunities, the organization is geared towards guiding students and parents in the community throughout their schooling years.
“Our goal is to improve educational opportunities in Montgomery County and ultimately grow the number of highly educated individuals in our community,” Friends in Focus co-founder Earl Leake said. “We work to achieve that in several different ways, but I think our main role is raising awareness and bringing attention to the needs of our students and getting people involved and engaged in working towards solutions to those needs.”
Friends in Focus’s efforts start with initiatives for young children. For elementary and middle school-aged students, the group’s main initiatives are Gator Good Guys, Saturday Academy and Highlands Summer Enrichment Program.
Gator Good Guys
Gator Good Guys was founded in 2013 as the first Friends in Focus initiative. This annual mentoring program is open to 4th and 5th grade boys at Mount Gilead Elementary School and focuses on teaching good manners, good citizenship and the value of a quality education. Mentors teach participants everything from proper handshakes to respecting others and being good teammates, all with the goal of instilling how these skills can have a profound impact on a person’s future.
Friends and Focus established Saturday Academy to help students (girls and guys) in grades 3-5 develop and improve reading, math and social skills. It meets one Saturday each month from October through May. While the main focus is educational enhancement, the program also focuses on larger goals like engaging students in career exploration and taking them on cultural field trips to museums or a movie. Saturday Academy also features an etiquette and social skills component that aims to teach students the importance of working together.
Highland Summer Enrichment Program
The Highland Summer Enrichment Program is a 3-week summer school for rising 3rd through 6th graders that concentrates on building student reading and comprehension skills to make sure they are performing at grade level. It takes place in July at the Highlands Community Center from 8-2:30 each day. Activities take place either solo or in groups and range from journal writing to phonics to computer work. The program focuses on fostering relationships between students and teachers and building a sense of community. It also emphasizes cultural awareness by taking field trips to locations that include Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC or The International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC.
Felecia Chambers, a special education teacher with the Montgomery County School System and Director of the Highland Summer Enrichment Program, believes that while the organization’s various initiatives might have different purposes and methods, they all aim to help participants become well-rounded, ambitious and prepared individuals. Chambers is also a member of the board of directors of Friends In Focus.
“We want to help put students in a position where they have a choice of what they want their future to look like — not one they are stuck in,” she said.
This mission extends beyond the elementary and middle school levels. For high school-aged students, Friends in Focus collaborates with the counseling department of West Montgomery High School to offer educational workshops to all seniors and their parents to learn about the college admissions process and how to successfully apply for college, scholarships and financial aid. The group has also established their own scholarships for college-bound minority students from West Montgomery and East Montgomery High Schools.
“This is our community and we are responsible for ensuring its future is prosperous — and that starts with the next generation,” Chambers said. “So, we owe it to each other and our community to make sure our students are educated and given the resources they need to succeed.”
As part of its goal of improving educational opportunities in Montgomery County, Friends in Focus spearheads several other efforts including back-to-school picnic fundraisers and book donation drives. It also provides programs and activities for the senior citizens of Mt. Gilead.
For more information about Friends in Focus or to learn more about one of the specific programs they offer, please visit https://friendsinfocus.org/.