Community center program helps kids get on grade level

Courtesy photo Trish Stansfield teaches addition to young children.

NASHUA – For Trish Stansfield and Donna Dye who coach skills building to young children at the Arlington Street Community Center, “there’s so much joy when that light bulb goes off,” Dye said.

The two women, both retired educators from the Nashua School District, lead the Skills Building Program to help provide elementary school students additional focus on skills they have yet to master, primarily math and reading.

The group of more than a dozen Dr. Crisp Elementary School students met twice weekly throughout the school year for roughly 50 minutes per session. They are also taught by retired teacher Helen Morris,

retired school nurse Sheryl Laliberte and Preeya Godsay, who is from the tech industry.

This year, they are trying to narrow the focus to students in kindergarten through third grade to help meet the My Brother’s Keeper initiative goals of getting students on grade level in math and reading by third grade.

“That’s the threshold for having that foundation in place,” Dye said. “They go from learning to read to reading to learn.”

In math, she added, the skills they learn early on will be the skills they build on in higher grades.

It also helps the students achieve another of the program’s goals, which is to help prevent violence and provide second chances. When students feel better about themselves and have confidence, the teachers agreed, they are less likely to act out.

The program does not feature homework or follow a strict curriculum, as they try to make it fun.

The kids have had a long day of school by the time they get to the community center, so they try to make it enticing, whether by playing a game or having the students create stories from their site words, Dye said.

Cherrie Fulton, principal at Dr. Crisp, said she was impressed with the progress the students in the program had made in just a few months, particularly the kindergartners. The students were referred to the program in a process that identified each of his or her weaknesses.

“They leave feeling like they are able to do things they couldn’t do before,” Stansfield said. “It’s a place for them to shine.”

This year’s program will start Oct. 1 and Dye and Stansfield are actively seeking more volunteers, preferably retired teachers.

“It has to be someone dedicated, who wants to make a difference and likes working with children,” Stansfield said, adding patience would also be a good quality.

Eventually, officials would like to expand the skills program to other schools. However, they are first trying to build their strength with Dr. Crisp, which is near the community center.

All volunteers need to submit references, a background check, and their fingerprints. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Stansfield, who is also the community center’s volunteer coordinator, at

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or