Summer Achievement Academy

Gerard Edic

Dr. John Hodges, a retired religion professor from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, tutors Greenwood and Leflore County students Monday at the Onnie M. Elliott-James Ella Crain Dickson Education Building. The weeklong summer camp teaches students how to become better readers by building their vocabulary.

Some students in Greenwood and Leflore County are getting assistance with reading comprehension through the help of a retired college professor.

Dr. John Hodges, who taught religion at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, is spending the entire week leading the Onnie M. Elliott Summer Achievement Academy at the Onnie M. Elliott-James Ella Crain Dickson Education Building on Broad Street.

For Hodges, good reading comprehension comes from a strong vocabulary.

He and fellow volunteers Minnie Whittaker and Dr. Stefenie Lott, who are retired educators, and Jaylin Smith, a student at Mississippi Valley State University, have been tutoring a group of 15 students ranging from rising fourth graders to rising seniors in high school.

The tutors began Monday and will continue through Friday, teaching from 9 a.m. to noon.

Summer Achievement Academy

Torionna Anthony, left, a rising seventh grader at Amanda Elzy Junior High, and Darious Russell, a rising eighth grader at Greenwood Middle School, go through their workbooks during the Onnie M. Elliott Summer Achievement Academy.

Building a student’s vocabulary comprehension during the summer camp is a “two-pronged attack,” Hodges said.

The first prong is to read more, particularly material that may be more relevant to the students of the public schools in the city and county, Hodges said.

In his view, those would include poems and other works by acclaimed African American authors such as Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes as well as speeches such as the Gettysburg Address.

The second prong of Hodges’ method is more mechanical in nature. The students are taught about the various parts of words — roots, prefixes and suffixes — and how to use them to learn the meanings of those words.

He used the word “omnipotent,” which means all-powerful, as an example.

If students don’t know what the word means, they can separate the word’s, root, “pot,” which means able or power, and the prefix “omni,” which means all, to define the word.

Hodges’ own interest in linguistics came about after he took a Latin class at Broad Street High School, taught by Leola G. Williams.

“That particular class sparked my interest in words, how they were put together,” he said.

Williams was also the drama coach for Hodges and other students at Broad Street, such as acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman. Hodges joked that he was a better actor than Freeman and that Freeman got lucky with a big break.

Following high school, Hodges earned a degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta, studied at the University of Nantes in France, and ended up at the University of Chicago for his doctorate in religion and literature.

He then taught in Knoxville, retiring in 2010. He is still a resident there.

The summer camp came as a convenience for Hodges, who has supported the Onnie M. Elliott Center in the past. He already planned to show up in Greenwood to attend his 1963 Broad Street class reunion, one of several class reunions being held for graduates of Broad Street, Stone Street and Threadgill High schools from the 1930s to the 1970s.

“We are indebted to him,” said Glenda Crain, director of the Onnie M. Elliott Center.

The weeklong camp will conclude with two guest speakers: Posey Miller, a former pilot for FedEx, and Christine Henton-Lee, a former architect.  Both  grew up in Greenwood.

Hodges said he hopes the speakers’ examples of lives well-lived can inspire students to become motivated and study hard.

“Once you are motivated, you can accomplish many things,” he said.

Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or gedic@gwcommonwealth.com.

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