Aaliyah Oatman slouched against the dry erase board when it was her turn to read to the class.
Judy Lamback softly chided her to stand up straight.
When the fourth-grader began speaking, Betty Bryant urged her to speak louder so that everyone in the room could hear her.
Aaliyah spoke slightly louder, but her youthful self-consciousness continued to get the better of her.
The members of the Top Ladies of Distinction praised Oatman for doing a good job before she returned to her seat.
It’s a scene that is repeated twice a month at Jenkins-White Elementary Charter School.
Members of the women’s service group tutor 13 fourth-grade girls two Wednesdays a month in language arts, but their focus is broader than simply reading comprehension.
“We try to get them to speak out and assert themselves and feel more positive about themselves,” Lamback said.
“I think that if you can speak, present yourself, you’ve already gotten halfway through the game. But if you’re withdrawn, nobody will ever know what you know.”
Each of the four women who volunteered May 2 – Lamback, Bryant, Jacquenline Lawrence and Ada Thomas – are former school teachers.
“It’s part of our national and local project – assault on illiteracy. That’s why we’re doing it,” said Bryant, who is the Augusta chapter’s literacy chairwoman. “We focus on reading, writing and speaking.”
That day, the women stopped a lesson on similes and metaphors to address disciplinary issues that two of the girls faced in other classes.
One was late to tutoring because she had been disciplined for bringing a bag of Doritos to class.
Lamback explained to the girl that bringing a bag of Doritos to class is not bad, but choice to open the bag during class caused her to be disciplined.
“You took it out and ate it and shared it. You’re lucky to be here,” Lamback told her.
The Ladies chose to focus on tutoring one small group. Students were chosen by the principal and teachers based on their needs for additional help with reading, although Lamback said that the girls’ potential to use what they learn to influence other students might also have been a factor.
Aaliyah said she really enjoys the sessions and feels that they help her in her other classes.
“It helps me not to have fright when I read, and helps me to have better posture,” she said.
“It’s fun to do a lot of new things and be around new people. I have fun.”
Parent coordinator Diane Murphy said she has noticed an improvement in the girls’ reading comprehension and demeanor.
“It’s a really great program because they’re not only working with literacy, they’re also working with manners and etiquette,” she said.
The Top Ladies of Distinction focus on five areas of community service: youth, enhancing the status of women, senior citizens, community beautification and community partnerships.