Through Bees Learning, Veal and a team of certified teachers-turned-tutors bring free, weekly literacy tutoring to multiple locations, including the Gulfport Library. The literacy tutoring is open to elementary students who attend schools with a “C” rating or lower or children who are homeschooled.
Veal spent six years teaching at Fairmont Elementary and experienced the challenges that underserved students and teachers of failing schools face. During her time teaching 1st grade, she found most students were coming to her classroom unprepared, with many students reading below grade level. Through her teaching, Veal said she was able to get 80% of her students on or above grade level in reading.
After seeing how her methods worked in improving kids’ reading skills, Veal was inspired to create Bee’s Learning, a non-profit dedicated to increasing reading proficiency in all children.
The nonprofit became official in September, with Veal leaving teaching to work on Bees full-time in December. Through her own funding, Veal purchased and renovated an RV in March, solidifying the mobile aspect of her organization, and made Bees Learning officially ready for students. The RV is used as a mobile classroom, so Bees tutors can teach on the go.
“Not all families can afford $40 for tutoring and I wanted to bring this to all kids,” said Veal.
Tutor and program coordinator Annie Nemeth finds her work with Bees Learning to be rewarding, both for herself and for parents and students. “I love just watching them grow and make the connections between letters and the sounds,” said Nemeth.
Bees Learning funds it’s free literacy tutoring via a few different channels: grants, weekly fundraising, sponsorship via advertising on the mobile classroom, and through funds collected for fee-based in home tutoring. The city of St. Petersburg awarded Bees a Youth Development Grant and they’ve also been funded by smaller grants, like one they accepted from the Debartolo Family Foundation in Tampa.
Each tutoring session is divided into two hours, says Veal, with the first hour reserved for readers in kindergarten through 2nd grade; the second hour is for students in grades 3 through 5. Students will participate in a whole-class reading and then break into smaller groups to focus on specific skills. The group meets on Thursday nights at the Gulfport Recreation Center from 6 to 8 p.m.
Bees Learning works at three locations: Child’s Park Recreation Center, Campbell Park Recreation Center and the Gulfport Library. The tutoring program runs for 10 months, taking breaks in December and July.
Nemeth says she looks forward to seeing the literacy tutoring program grow.
“I would love to see us add more locations to service more students more frequently,” she says.
Currently spots for students K through 2nd are full, but there are two spots per location available for 3rd through 5th grade readers.
To sign up, parents can call Bees Learning at 727-281-6564 or fill out a registration packet, available at any of the three locations.
“This is a community-based program,” said Veal. “The community needs us, and we need the community.”