Miller has enjoyed her career of helping students

Published 9:44 am Monday, July 31, 2017

It was only supposed to be for a short time.

When the Rev. Tommy Miller, director of Good Shepherd Community Center, called his wife, Debby, to come fill in as director of the center’s afterschool tutoring program, she agreed to do it for a year.

Twelve years later, Debby Miller is still at Good Shepherd and still the director of the tutoring program. She is also the assistant director of the center’s day care program.

“I assist Tommy and (daycare center director) Ms. (Cassandra) Terry with daily activities,” she said. “I assist the teachers, helping them in any way if they need help, if it’s discipline or they need resources, or just giving them a break, or getting materials; help plan field trips.”

The afterschool tutoring program, she said, is for children from pre-K to sixth grade.

During the school year, the program meets five days a week from 3:30 to 5 p.m., she said, adding volunteers tutor the children from Monday through Thursday to make sure the students get their homework completed.

This year, Miller said, the program is working with the United Way of West Central Mississippi and the Vicksburg Warren School System to develop a reading enhancement program to help children with their reading.

“It’s an area where (children) struggle. We’re trying to help children read at grade level — some children will reach it, some children are already there, and some will take a little time to reach it.

Presently, she and the tutors are working with United Way and the school district “so we can all be on the same page; understand what the school board expects from the children — just better communication between the school system, the parents and us and the tutors.”

The problem, Miller said, is learning the meaning of the terms and understanding what they mean. 

“The children have Chromebooks now, so they don’t have textbooks a lot of the time, and even if they do, they don’t bring them home all the time. We’re trying to figure out what they’re (the school system) doing so they can go along.”

Last year, she said, United Way purchased iPads for the tutoring program, and they have been an advantage, “Because we can look up things and find out what (school officials) are talking about.”

The tutors, she said, may not be familiar with the term, “But if they see a definition, they know what it is.”

Besides helping the tutors, Miller said the iPads have allowed them to teach the children to do research using the pad, teach them creative writing and vocabulary, plus use them for games and enjoyment.

She said she has been interested in early education since she began teaching at Hawkins United Methodist Church, where the Millers attend church.

“I started teaching preschool when my son was three. I was a stay-at-home mom, and I wanted to do something part-time, but I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could during those preschool years.

“An opportunity came up for me to be a preschool teacher at our church, and I was there for 16 years. What I thought would be just a few years, turned into an enjoyment, and I learned just how much I really enjoyed it.”

She said she enjoys working with children and watching them grow.

“Just to prepare them for school and prepare them for life. It starts in preschool and it’s a growing process all the way until they graduate from high school and go on to college or technical school, or even if they go out and get a job and learn on the job, just to try and prepare them to be self-sufficient, take care of themselves, take care of their families.”

Miller believes the community is letting its children down, “Because we don’t give them enough time and attention that they need, and take the time and patience that we need to show them and to teach them what they need to be learning.”

Miller and her husband have had a good relationship with Good Shepherd for some time before Tommy Miller became director.

“We both volunteered when Bill Watkins was (director) here, and then Tommy took over, and I became the boss’ wife and dealing with everything,” she said.

Miller said working at Good Shepherd is a wonderful experience and she enjoys working with the children and the staff.

“I think we have a good staff. We work together, we have fun together, but we really try to keep it professional.”

But she never saw herself working at the center.

“I just never thought I would work with him and be here. (But) The afterschool tutoring director had resigned, and he (Tommy) asked me to do it for a year, and a year has turned into 12. I knew it would happen; I fell in love with the children, and it’s hard to say no to them.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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