Staying back

Tiptons family moved on, but 'Birthday People' stayed to help Friendsville students

Photo with no caption
By Suzy Smith
For Blount Today

Thanks to volunteers, Friendsville Elementary school students not only receive a birthday snack treat and a brand new pencil during their birthday month, they also receive a pat on the back, a kind smile and a heartfelt "Happy Birthday."

Once a month for the last two years, volunteers Tom and Sandy Tipton and Sandy Tipton’s brother Terry Hess have
stationed themselves in the cafeteria at a table adorned with an enormous five-layer decorative cake. They hand out treats for students who have birthdays during that month.

"(The students) recognize us as the Birthday People," said Sandy Tipton. She takes a minute to speak with each child, like
the shy first grader with freckles and pigtails and the fifth grader sporting athletic shoes and a football jersey.

The Tiptons began participating in this tradition when their grandson attended Friendsville Elementary. He has moved on to William Blount Middle School, but they have continued their volunteer service to the school.

In the past, the school rotated the volunteer duty of handling the monthly birthday celebration, but the Tiptons volunteered to do it every month, said Linda Carraway, the school’s counselor and mentoring program coordinator.

"The kids look forward to this," said Ellen Jenkins, principal of Friendsville Elementary. "It makes them feel special."

Not only do the Tiptons recognize each child at the birthday celebrations, they chaperone field trips, help the school with
the Read Across America program, and they participate in the school’s mentoring program.

"The Tiptons are exceptional," said Jo Greene, Friendsville Elementary third grade teacher. Greene was the teacher for the two students the Tiptons mentor. Greene said that the benchmark assessments for the students being mentored by the Tiptons improved significantly from the beginning of the school year. Not only are the students’ test scores improving, Greene said the students’ attitude about school work has made positive changes.

The mentoring program at Friendsville Elementary has approximately 40 volunteers to serve 40 at-risk students who experience difficulties with reading skills, Carraway said.

"Reading is important, but it is also important that (the students) have someone who is only talking to them," said Sandy Tipton.

Sandy and her husband are originally from Virginia. The Tiptons have been married 45 years and have three grandchildren. Tom Tipton also volunteers for the Alcoa Police Department where their son, Mark, is an officer.

The birthday treats that the Tiptons give each student come from the school’s Adopt-A-School sponsor, First Tennessee Regional Operations Center. The center also provides supplies for the annual mentor luncheon to honor and recognize the
volunteers’ service to the school.

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