Program gives help to at-risk schoolchildren

Saturday, August 23, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- First Presbyterian Church offers the For Our Children's Understanding and Support (FOCUS) program to students who have completed first grade and are having difficulty getting a full grasp of the curriculum that is expected of them.

In its third year, the program hosts at-risk children from both public and private schools that need more maturity and individual experiences.

The first- and second-grade curriculum is taken from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's grade cards to cover all the skills they will need to move forward.

"These are the kids that can potentially fall between the cracks," said Christie Kittrell, lead teacher.

Many of the children have been evaluated by their schools for different things, including learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder, but did not qualify for special services.

But they don't always have disabilities. Sometimes family and moving situations can trigger problems at school.

To keep the curriculum customized and suit the individual needs of the students, the program accepts only 12 students per year.

The day starts with 20 minutes of Christian education and 90 minutes of reading and writing.

An activity is scheduled for the children to read a book to themselves or a neighbor. Because they are still in the early stages of developing reading skills, it is not uncommon for them to read out loud.

There are two full-time certified teachers and three part-time assistant teachers who help the children concentrate mainly on reading and math, but also teach science, social studies, art and physical education.

Janet Flowers, a retired second-grade teacher from Callaway Hills, comes in for three hours a day. She heard about FOCUS through a co-worker.

"After teaching, you just don't quit," she said.

Helping the children through the necessary core subjects is important, but also helping them feel encouraged and boosting their self-esteem is something they can benefit from even after elementary school is over.

At Shelbey Fritz's desk are words of encouragement from her grandmother: "Do your best. I love you. Grandma Linda."

The program is fully funded by the church with the exception of lunch, which must be provided for, unless the child is eligible for a reduced lunch.

Aside from learning all aspects of reading, spelling and math, the children take field trips throughout the year.

Once they complete the school year at FOCUS, their original schools will assess and determine if the child is eligible to move to second or third grade.

FOCUS follows the Jefferson City Public Schools calendar to make it easy for parents who may have other children attending the schools.

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