Liberty Bell students enjoy Thanksgiving meal with their parents

Liberty Bell High Five Club students and their parents enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday night at Topper Academy.

Liberty Bell High Five Club proving to payoff for students

Enthusiasm was in abundance as members of Liberty Bell's High Five Club hosted their families for a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday night at Topper Academy.  

Whether it was the cheerful director, Khia Hudgins, or the eager Liberty Bell students, smiles were plentiful as everyone celebrated the comradery that has been compiled since the program started over a decade ago. 

Hudgins, who took over the program this summer after the passing of former director Rhonda Garrity, said that the program helps students take ownership of the choices they make.  

"It's the High Five Club, so we put our hands in the air and we take ownership of what we are doing," said Hudgins who had to take a few breaks from the interview to distribute hugs to some of her students. "So all of the students take ownership of their grades, their attendance and their behavior and, they know that is what is going to help them succeed." 

The program allows students to have a place to go afterschool where they have an hour of tutoring that is followed by a snack and an enrichment activity that is based around STEAM.  

"It's for kids that want to grow. Whether they want to improve their grades or they want to make connections, socially," Hudgins said. "It's interactive and that's what I love about it, it's all encompassing." 

The program is funded through a Lottery for Education Afterschool Programs (LEAPs) grant. LEAPs was started in 2002 after the state lottery was established. The overall goal (LEAPs) is to provide Tennessee students with academic enrichment opportunities that reinforce and complement the regular academic program.  

The program at Liberty Bell sees about 40-50 students daily that use the services to better prepare themselves, and Hudgins said that inviting all of the families to a dinner provides her with the opportunity to brag on her students.  

"We are just doing some community outreach and this dinner helps me to meet our students' parents and connect everything," Hudgins said. "I get to talk about our students and brag about them to their parents and let them know that without them this program would not be possible." 

Liberty Bell 7th-grader Lucinda Steel said that she has noticed a big change in her approach to school since she joined the program at the beginning of the school year. 

“The High Five Club is a great opportunity for us to get better in our grades and understand more of what to do in school,” Steel said. “It gives us an extra opportunity to connect with friends and raise our grades.” 

Her friend, Madison Lacycock, another 7th-grader from Liberty Bell, agreed with Steel and said that she looks forward to the High Five Club every day. 

“They’re supportive and they are always there if you need help,” Lacycock said. “It’s just a fun group to be in…I really like it because last quarter my grades weren’t that good and then I joined this quarter and my grades have raised so much and I am passing every single class. Because now I have time and the help to do my homework. They help me understand more of what I am learning.” 

Hudgins believes having most of the students using the program to improve their grades and their decisions is a compliment to the people that started the program before her, like Garrity. 

"She and Dr. (Robbie) Anderson actually wrote this grant and I'm very sad that (Garrity) didn't see it come to fruition," Hudgins said. "So I am honored that I am here and that it is growing. We do this in her honor and in her memory. Because this is what she saw and this is what her vision was for this program.  This is very much a team-effort, without everyone this wouldn't be possible." 

But Steel said that without an influence like Hudgins, she wouldn't be doing so well in school. 

“She is a very positive person and she helps us and guides us to the right paths,” Steel said. “She encourages us to do better and to get better grades and to look forward to the future and things like that.”