Over 600 students in the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school districts have received after-school help through the United Way of Southeast Missouri's Leading and Inspiring Families to Excel (LIFE) Initiative.
The LIFE Initiative works with students in after-school programs to provide resources needed to improve academic skills, gain life and social skills, improve attendance, reduce disciplinary referrals and prepare for success in the classroom and beyond.
"Working with the United Way provides a valuable resource for students," said Dr. Beth Emmendorfer, associate superintendent of Jackson schools. "It helps provide additional supports and because many parents work, it helps provide a safe place after school for students to get help with homework. We have seen grades and attendance improve because students are more engaged and connected to their education and we've built relationships with the parents."
The LIFE Initiative provided funding for the Cape and Jackson School Districts to supplement budgets for after-school programming offered by the schools. One example was to provide transportation home for students at the junior high and middle schools who attended after-school tutoring programs. Students involved with the programs receive help with homework, get a nutritional snack and gain skills needed to make positive life decisions.
"We can look at the schools and ask, 'What are some little things we can step up and make better?'" said Jo Peukert, coordinator of the LIFE Initiative. "We can say to a school, 'what do you need?' and step in and help. We have helped children stay on track and not slide back and keep them from becoming early dropouts."
The LIFE Initiative began in 2008 when the United Way sought to find ways to affect the community. "We looked at how could we impact the community and thought to target students who are at risk of failing or dropping out," said Nancy Jernigan, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Missouri. "We looked at supplementing and expanding the after school programs that were all ready in place. Eighty-five percent of our students are on track to graduate."
According to Jernigan, the LIFE Initiative covers most schools in the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school districts and has received positive support from the school districts and communities.