School System Awarded 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant to Serve At-Risk Students

August 14, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

In recent years, DeKalb County has had a high rate of suicide and teen pregnancy. In an effort to address concerns of at-risk students and their families with after school academic and enrichment activities, the DeKalb County School System has been awarded a 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program Grant.

The initial award amount for the school system is $216,250 but it could increase to over a million dollars within five years, with no local matching requirement.

The announcement was made during Thursday night's meeting of the Board of Education and the school board voted to implement the program.

Supervisor of Instruction Dr. Carol Hendrix, who was instrumental in the school system getting the grant, says the funding is for $216,250 for a minimum of three years totaling $648,750. She says successful implementation of the grant for three years may extend the funding for two additional years with $432,500 in additional monies. Again, no matching funds from the school system are required.

A prepared written summary of the key elements and overall purpose of the grant, states that the "DeKalb County School System will create five 21st Century Community Learning Centers with school system partners including LEAPS, the Extended Learning Program, and Title I and IV. The ultimate goal of the program is to address the needs of at- risk students and families with academic and enrichment learning activities. Eight objectives including reading/language, mathematics, and science skills development, academic enrichment, art and music enrichment activities, counseling programs emphasizing drugs, suicides, and violence prevention, extended library hours, English of Second Language skills development, and computer literacy for parents, will guide the goal. Along with community partnerships and parents, approximately 1,800 students and 500 parents will be served."

The report provides statistics which support DeKalb County's need for the grant. "The most sobering report came in 2005 when the Center for Disease Control reported that DeKalb County had the second highest suicide rate in the United States between the years 1999-2002 and the highest of any county east of the Mississippi. DeKalb County experienced an average suicide rate of 42.8 per 100,000 people for the four years between 1999-2002 compared with the national average of 10.7% Additionally, the most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Health (2006) reports that DeKalb County had the highest suicide rate in the state at 42.15 per 100,000 between the years 2002 to 2005. In 2007, DeKalb County retained the rating with a mortality rate of 93rd out of 95 counties."

"Moreover, the Tennessee Institute of Public Health ranked DeKalb County 90th out of 95 counties in the 2007 Tennessee County Health Ranking. The institute further ranked DeKalb 95th out of 95 counties in teen birth rate per 100,000. The graduation rate at DCHS in 2007 was reported at 76.1 by the State Department of Education and the Tennessee Institute of Public Health ranked DeKalb as 93rd out of 95 counties in graduation rates in the state."

"As in many communities, poverty, violence, and crime are of major concern. Whereas 18% of the overall population lives below the poverty line, 21% of children up to 17 years old live in poverty. Overall, 56% of our students are identified as "at-risk" as defined by their qualifications for the free/reduced school lunch program. It has been estimated that the free and reduced lunch rate could be as high as 65% county-wide if all students eligible completed an application. Additionally, all K-8 schools in the county are school-wide Title I schools.'

"The most recent Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Summary Report in 2007 for DeKalb County reported 273 cases of children from the ages of 11-18 referred to Juvenile Court. The offenses ranging from criminal homicide ( .37%) assault (14.29%), vandalism (4.03%), theft of property (2.20%), possession of alcohol and controlled substances (3.30%), traffic (33.33%), unruly behavior (10.26%), and possession of tobacco products (10.99%)

The needs assessment report states that "The DeKalb County School System has a history of collaboration among and between schools to improve services for students. The 21st Century Community Learning Center will extend that collaboration to include the Smithville First Baptist Church, Appalachian Craft Center, Healing Hearts and STAR. Community based organizations including the County Advisory Board, Juvenile Court Judge, and Tennessee Technological University will provide direction and input into the programs. Among the activities will include "A Drama in Action Club", "Family Read and Math Night", Upwards Basketball, Crafts display at the 38th annual Smithville Fiddlers Jamboree and Crafts Festival, and opportunities to improve skills in the classroom for students. Parent participation will be maximized in their children's learning through direct involvement with students and special workshops. Transportation for all students, nutritional, and fitness will maximize the effects of the program."

Dr. Hendrix says the grant funds will help provide transportation. "We can hire bus drivers and we can pay for fuel to transport our students to these after school programs as well as our summer programs. We're partnering with extended contract and Title I to ensure that we have all the needs met in the county for the schools. Last year we met all the needs. We asked the principals what they wanted this year and we are 100% sure we will have the money this year to provide every activity that the principals asked for. There's also another element to this. In the project design, I put a site coordinator in there because this is going to take a lot of wor. So we'll have a site coordinator. Also within the grant, there's going to be enough money to pay teachers close to what they make an hour and we've never been able to do that previously."

The learning centers will be located at the five schools in the county with one satellite site, the Smithville First Baptist Church. Each site will recruit qualified staff from the school served by the program. Transportation will be provided for students to the satellite sites as well as to home at the end of the program. Local school buses and drivers will be employed from the school system to provide safe transportation for children to return home. The school system transportation policy concerning parents picking up children at school will also be utilized to allow parents to transport children home if they desire.

Under the program, Reading/ Language, Math, and Science tutoring will be utilized to strengthen student's classroom performance. Tutoring will be offered at all sites from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. Various programs including Math Fun for Young Children, Math Explorer and Science Families will be utilized in the programs for students at Northside Elementary, DeKalb Middle, and DeKalb West School.

A "DeKalb Scholars Club" will provide activities in the areas of math, science, and reading in grades 3-12 at Northside Elementary, DeKalb Middle, DCHS, and DeKalb West School. Activities will include Lego Mindstrom, Destination Imagination, Debate Team, Chess, Literacy Circles/Reading Club, and Mastery Speller which are unique opportunities for many students to learn and develop leadership activities. These will be offered from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. during the regular school week and competitions will be held on Saturdays during the summer at times to be determined.

Research indicates that participating in recreational activities is associated with higher levels of self-esteem, and motivation, and overall psychological well-being. Additionally, participation in athletics have shown a positive association with academic achievement and increased parental involvements. Specific recreational activities will include tennis, partnership golf (includes parents and students), Karate and Upwards Basketball for students from all sites.

The Appalachian Center for Crafts will provide after school and summer art activities for students and access to artists who are in residence at the craft center. Students will display crafts at the Fiddler's Jamboree and Crafts Festival next year as a result of working at the Crafts Center. Art and Music students will also attend Laketoberfest at Lakeside Resort and Educational Complex sponsored by the Tennessee Arts Commission. Additionally, keyboarding will be offered to approximately 20 students in grades 3-8.

The Drama in Action Club will be developed for young thespians in grades 6-12. This club will meet two days a week from 3:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. for a 10 week period twice a year. Music activities will be incorporated into the program. Through arts integrated literacy instruction, students will find reading and writing more meaningful. At-risk students show the greatest gains, therefore, at least 50% of students deemed at-risk by classroom teachers will be chosen to participate in the drama club. Each school will be limited to 40 students during each 10 week period.

In addition to the counselors at each school working with students during the day, two after school programs will be utilized to address drug suicide and violence prevention. "Too Good for Drugs and Violence" is recognized as a successful research based curriculum designed for grades K-12 that offers counseling, universal prevention, service learning projects, and parent conferences. This program will be offered from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. three days per week for students age 12-18. The "Strengthening Families Program" will involve two-7 week cycles for two to two and a half hours per session. Sessions will be at a time accessible for both students and children. This program will be accessible for both middle school students and their families at two sites, DeKalb Middle and DeKalb West School.

Healing Hearts of Tennessee will collaborate with the school system and provide three programs entitled "Child-Parent-Relationship (CPR) Training, After School Teen Group, and Healing Hearts Mentoring Program". The CPR classes will teach skills and techniques proven effective for helping communicate with and discipline their children more effectively. This involves 10 sessions' classes for two hours in length with no more than eight individual's participation. The first series of classes is projected to be offered one night a week during the fall and a second series during the spring.

After School Teens Groups is for students 13-18 . These groups, one for boys and one for girls, will target students who have a history of behavioral, emotional, or truancy problems and or involvement with the DeKalb County Juvenile Court. This group will have no more than 10 students per group meeting for eight weekly sessions. The licensed counselor will be the same gender as the participants in the group.

The Healing Hearts Mentoring Program is designed to match at-risk youth with a mentor/role model. The role of the mentor is to help guide another individual's development.

"Family Read Night" and "Family Math Night" will be conducted at four of the five sites including DeKalb West, DeKalb Middle, Northside Elementary, and Smithville Elementary Schools expanding library hours for four days a week from 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. and from 3:00 p..m until 6:00 p.m. Librarians and teachers will involve parents in learning skills for reading and use of the library. Parents will be given specific times to read and work on math skills with their children during this program.

The Smithville First Baptist Church will serve as a satellite center for all school sites. The church is building a Life Enrichment Center which is slated to be completed soon. The goal of the church is to be community service oriented. The center will have a gym, classrooms, and a stage for cultural activities and other events. The church will provide four programs including a Reading Program deigned for elementary school children who need assistance in reading skills. The program will meet on Tuesdays immediately after school until 5:00 p.m. Volunteers from the church will work with children on specific skills according to needs assessment. Certified teachers will monitor the program.

English of Second Language will be offered at the church for all school children of any age. It meets weekly from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. teaching English proficiency to speakers of other language. Snacks and recreation will be provided.

Upwards Basketball, a youth-league basketball program will be developed at the church for all school age children. The goal of this program is to teach character along with skills for basketball. Dates and times have not yet been established for this program even though it will be in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

5th Quarters is an event which will be available at the church for high school students on Friday nights after home football games. Music and refreshments and social time will be part of this program.

In the needs assessment report, DeKalb County Juvenile Judge Bratten Cook, II was quoted as saying at a meeting discussing the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, "If we don't begin providing after school programs both in academics, recreation, and the arts, we are going to continue to lose students by the tons as I see every week in my court."

Officials say the tragedies of the county are preventable through expanded programs in elementary and secondary schools.

The report says " A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, in 2007 found that regular participation in high quality after school programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits as well as reductions in misconduct and risky behavior. Making the transition from after school to full service or community schools is a long-term project. DeKalb County is ready for the challenge."

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