JACKSON, Mo. -- When administrators from the Jackson School District met with parents, teachers and community members for long-range planning in 2000, they discovered one thing everyone wanted was a program for children at risk of failing or dropping out of school.
During the spring of 2001, Beth Emmendorfer, director of special education for the district, started writing grant proposals and looking into programming for at-risk programs in other districts throughout the state.
Last fall the district received a health grant for $80,000 and a safe schools grant for $100,000, which allowed the district to form an at-risk program for students that don't qualify as having special needs, but still need assistance to succeed in school.
After only one year in the program, the district has seen positive results that the program, which was initiated in grades one through seven, is helping children not only improve their grades, but their self-esteem too.
There are 10 at-risk programs in the district.
In its first year 450 parents volunteered to help read to students or work with students who were referred to school counselors and principals by parents or teachers who felt the student needed extra help outside of class.
Out of 21 seventh-graders participating in the Explorer's Program, 19 improved their grades over the course of the year; students at West Lane and South Elementary schools had fewer D's and F's and more A's and B's in the third quarter than they did during the second quarter; and nearly all of the children who participated in the programs felt better about themselves and their schoolwork in the end, said Emmendorfer.
The Explorer's Program is for seventh-graders who struggle in regular classroom settings. Instead of staying in their classrooms all day the students get to spend up to three hours in a smaller setting working on their regular curriculum.
A program called Rainbows is designed to help students suffering a loss, either from a death or divorce, learn how to deal with that loss.
A few other programs focus on reading.
In the Reading Assistants-Volunteer Enthusiasts or RAVE program, community members and parents volunteer time each week or a few times a month to sit and read to children or listen to the children read.
A program called CALB or Children Always Love Books is an after-school book club for fifth- and sixth-grade students.
"Teachers meet with four or five students to do some fun reading activities," said Emmendorfer. "The purpose is to get kids excited about reading."
Other programs focus on pairing students with adult mentors or buddies.
Judy Hoffman, a mother of three children in the district, volunteered to help with the Parents Always Love Students or PALS program.
She and other PALS volunteers organize special days each month, like milk and cookie day, when they bring treats and read to the students.
Hoffman said she likes volunteering at the schools because she gets to help the students who are struggling and she gets to know her children's friends better.
Valarie Blades is also a PALS volunteer.
Her daughter Grace will be a seventh-grader at the middle school in the fall.
She said she volunteers not only to help the children with their reading skills or math problems but to be a motherly figure to the students who might not have the best family lives at home.
"Sometimes you have to be the warm fuzzy," she said. "If you're a happier person you'll do better in anything that you work toward. If you know that somebody cares about you then you want to perform better for them."
Emmendorfer said when the children work one-on-one or in small groups with parents and other volunteers they develop self-confidence unlike in a regular classroom setting where they might feel intimidated speaking or reading in front of a classroom of their peers.
"I have teachers come up to me all the time and tell me their children are more confident reading in the classroom because they've had opportunities to improve their skills with the RAVE program and other programs," Emmendorfer said.
Both Hoffman and Blades say the relationships they form with the children in the classrooms continue outside school. "Anywhere I go they don't forget me," Blades said. "Even the big, bulky boys make an effort to come over and say hello."
Emmendorfer said the district received a continuation of both the health and the safe schools grant so all of the at-risk programs will be available again in the fall at all of the elementary schools and the middle school.
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