“Read. Play. Grow.” focus of Phi Theta Kappa Beta Tau Gamma Chapter’s Honors in Action Project

Published 3:57 pm Friday, November 4, 2022

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — Elementary school students in the after-school program at The Family YMCA of Southeast Mississippi learn from STEAM-focused enrichment. Members of the Beta Tau Gamma Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa at the Forrest County Campus of Pearl River Community College brought a component of their Honors in Action (HIA) research project, “Read. Play. Grow.” to the facility. 

Every year, PTK chapters wanting to earn Five Star Status must do an HIA research project with a few themes given for direction. The projects are community focused and offer the students the opportunity to both research the issue and come up with potential solutions. In the Mississippi/Louisiana Region, just over half of the 50 chapters complete an HIA project. Beta Tau Gamma has been a Five Star Chapter since it was chartered in November 2010. 

The Beta Tau Gamma Chapter elected to focus on the impact of play on learning and literacy. The recent pandemic impacted students across the globe with test scores dropping drastically in areas including the Pine Belt. The use of structured and unstructured play layered with traditional teaching methods has been shown to improve learning. Playing and reading are considered best practices for better learning. 

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“Working with the Beta Tau Gamma chapter of Phi Theta Kappa on the Forrest County Campus means that I get to dive along with curious and highly capable students into a substantive academic investigation of a community concern,” said PTK Advisor Dr. Terri Ruckel. “This year, we have chosen a theme, ‘Play in Forward,’ in the Honors in Action Study Topic, The Art and Science of Play. The project is even nearer and dearer to me because I served on the Honors Council last year to write the program guide for our project.” 

A Mellon Foundation grant enabled the project team to implement their action component with the purchase of books for young readers. Books were distributed to the YMCA After School program participants along with the PTK students modeling structured play. 

“I do believe that at least one child’s heart was sparked by the connection between reading and the series of activities we had prepared for them,” said Tobias Adams of Hattiesburg. “I distinctly remember being at the science table showing a group of children the ‘magic’ of the reaction between baking soda dissolved in water and vinegar. After the reaction resulted in a fizzing cup, one of the kids told me, ‘I want to do that!’ This was just one of the brilliant reactions everyone else and I had the pleasure to witness.” 

The STEAM-focused activities were well received by those attending the presentation. 

“We are so glad that the PRCC Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society could come out to do STEAM activities with our youngest age group,” said YMCA School-Age Child Care Director Claire Ratliff.  “They loved the hands-on learning activities, especially building towers with marshmallows and toothpicks. We hope to have the Honor Society come out and visit again soon!” 

The Honors in Action Project does not end with the structured play demonstration. Students will be raising money and awareness of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program facilitated in the community by the United Way. Students are also arranging to tutor for after school programs at the YMCA and the Aldersgate tutoring program, also part of Hattiesburg’s United Way efforts in the community.   

“While our aim was to plant a seed in the minds of the children to see a significance in reading, I think our group learned how to be better leaders and how to be actively engaged with a different demographic of our community,” said Adams. 

Beta Tau Gamma members who have researched and took part in the Honors in Action project include Tobias Adams (Oak Grove), Raegan Anderson (Purvis), Aidan Aultman (Sumrall), Hunter Bass (Petal), Gunner Burkhalter (Purvis), Carlo Catlett (Hattiesburg), Delanie Dublin (England), Jaden Glen (Hattiesburg), Ben Hartley (Hattiesburg), Micah Mixon (Hattiesburg), Logan Ratliff (Hattiesburg), Ana Salas-Mondragon (Hattiesburg), Kyle Sloan (Hattiesburg) and Noah Taylor (Hattiesburg.) Dr. David Collum and Mr. Said Otwane served as co-advisors working on this project. 

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