Jackson programs give help where needed

Saturday, July 13, 2002

Jackson School District has such a can-do spirit and proven record of success, it's little wonder Gov. Bob Holden traveled there personally last year to congratulate the administrators, teachers and students on their performance.

And now the district has another success story: a program for at-risk students requested by the community, funded by grants and created by Jackson educators. It is the good example of local people retaining control of the local schools.

The effort began during meetings with parents, teachers and community members two years ago to launch long-range planning. All those groups agreed the district needed a program to address students who were at risk of dropping out and thus jeopardizing their futures.

The district's special-education director, Beth Emmendorfer, started writing grant proposals and examining programs for at-risk students in other parts of the state.

Last fall, the district received grants for $80,000 and $100,000 to help students who didn't need special education but who needed more help than they would receive in a regular classroom.

The results after only one school year were outstanding.

There are 10 at-risk programs in schools throughout the Jackson district. An astounding 450 parents volunteered to help students whom counselors and principals felt needed extra assistance.

Nineteen of 21 seventh-grade students in the Explorers Program improved their grades. Students at West Lane Elementary received fewer D's and F's and more A's and B's.

But the programs aren't just about adults helping students with homework after school, although that can be an important element. The at-risk grants funded a number of diverse programs.

The Rainbows program is designed to help students deal with a death, divorce or other loss to keep their grades from dropping dramatically.

Reading Assistants-Volunteer Enthusiasts volunteer time each week to read to children or listen to the children read.

Children Always Love Books is an after-school book club for fifth- and sixth-graders, who meet with teachers in small groups to do fun reading activities. The idea is to get them enthused about reading for school and pleasure.

Parents Always Love Students organizes special days for parents to bring treats and spend time with children to let them know someone cares about them. Milk-and-Cookie Day is a favorite.

The educators and volunteers in Jackson say they're seeing a difference, not just in the grades mentioned earlier, but in the self-esteem of the children involved. Even formerly withdrawn students greet volunteers now and look forward to the visits.

The best news: The district has received a continuation of both grants, so the programs will continue into the coming school year.

Hats off to the Jackson school leaders and volunteers involved in the projects. No doubt other districts can look to them, and even use their expertise, to do the same.

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