Although no building could look less like a school, on weekday afternoons a butterscotch house in East Laurinburg plays host to a whole lot of learning.
Helping Young People Excel (HYPE) is a two-hour after school program for children in the elementary, middle, and high school grades. HYPE teaches children comprehension skills that will lead to success both socially and in the classroom, according to Ronnie McGirt, the program’s director.
“Comprehension skills are a very big part of what we do here, academically and socially,” said McGirt, who formerly worked as a behavior support assistant in Scotland County’s public schools. “If our kids can’t comprehend socially and academically, they’re missing out on a large part of life. Even the kids who are straight A students may still lack social skills.” HYPE began in January, the culmination of one couple’s desire to give back to their community and combat the violence breaking out among Laurinburg’s youth.
“Both of us still have a lot of family there in Laurinburg, and with all the recent violence, shootings, and different things like that, we were just looking at another alternative for the youth, to redirect the negative behavior,” said Gervonia Manning, who founded HYPE with her husband Dewayne. Formerly of Laurinburg, the couple now lives in Whispering Pines.
Last week, HYPE received approval from the East Laurinburg Board of Commissioners to operate as a business in the town. A petition signed by 99 East Laurinburg residents opposed the program, expressing concerns about older students causing disturbances in the Sixth Street neighborhood.
The program recently moved to East Laurinburg from The Highlands, where it has operated since its inception. According to McGirt, HYPE currently enrolls some 30 elementary school students, 15 middle school students, and fewer than 10 high school students.
McGirt estimated that 90 percent of the program’s students live in Scotland County, with a few from Robeson County. HYPE aims to provide children with a variety of new experiences in a safe environment.
“We venture our kids out to new possibilities other than what they see every day on TV or what they see every day in life right in front of them,” said McGirt. “We’ve got smart kids, but they don’t have the social means to take themselves to the next level. We’re showing them that regardless of that, the opportunities are still there.”
Children spend their time in the program working on homework and academic skills as well as socialization. “Some of our kids are extremely smart, then there are those here who we help with academic skills to get them on reading level or with numbers identification for our smaller kids, and then we get further into the program where we help out with algebra and science,” said McGirt.
The program has included trips to the bowling alley and library, with beach and zoo trips planned for the summer.
“We take them to the park, we set up baseball teams so that they can feel that they’re still a part of something,” Manning said. “Some of the kids, even though they’re right there in Laurinburg, they’ve never even been to the bowling alley. We show them that there’s something besides getting in trouble. We’re trying to teach them that there’s more to life than getting in trouble and fighting. It’s sad when you’re in elementary school and you’re suspended every other week.”
HYPE is free for all children to attend, Manning said, giving children a place to learn and grow at a price point that even parents of multiple children can afford.
“A lot of the parents that we have talked to about why their kids aren’t involved in different things say that Parks and Rec isn’t free anymore,” said Manning. “When you have three or four kids, you cannot afford to put all of your kids in Parks and Rec, so we decided to try to do something totally different to help families as a whole, where it won’t be a financial strain.”
Another aspect of HYPE is providing children with positive role models and a feeling of community in a controlled environment, they said.
“I grew up in a neighborhood where everybody raised me,” McGirt said. “Your children can listen to you all the time, but sometimes your children will listen to someone else, and I hope that that someone else is giving them good guidance. Everybody here has their own job before they even get here — people come after work to come and do this for two hours. We portray that professionalism is a part of life.”