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Prevention effort ready for next phase

Sep. 19, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County is hoping to continue to reverse the dropout trend with help from the community with the Education Matters initiative, operated through United Way of the River Cities.

A summit was conducted Thursday evening to enter the next phase of the plan, which is putting plans into place using five focus areas: early education, parent involvement, support for families and students, mentoring and counseling, and the school system.

Each will play a vital role in addressing the problem, which is viewed as not having one easy solution, said Education Matters coordinator Sara Blevins and Laura Gilliam, the executive director of United Way.

"Education Matters has done a lot of work, but there is more to be done," Gilliam said. "It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to keep them in school. If they don't graduate, our community is worse for it."

To kick off the meeting, participants heard from three different sectors that have already started addressing dropout prevention.

Robert St. Clair, an assistant principal at Cabell Midland High School, took off his school system hat to speak on behalf of Central United Methodist Church in West Huntington. During the summer, the church held the Underwood McCoy Sports Camp, which St. Clair said, led to participation in the summer food program, vacation Bible school, attendance on Sundays and to after school programs.

He said extracurricular activities are important because they put students in place with caring adults and supportive peers.

Ellenda Ward, the director of the Communities in Schools programs, said they have been and continue to serve as an organization that funnels services to where they is needed. She said they have focused mostly on meeting basic needs of students, which can mean helping keep the food and clothing pantries at both high schools stocked or becoming a mentor.

And Nikita Jackson, the new school-based probation officer, said her efforts are paying off. She said the results have included simply getting students to turn in their doctor's excuses or going to homes and getting students out of bed. She also has had to call Child Protective Services and DHHR to address situations where intervention was needed.

After a brief introduction to the five focus areas, participants attended breakout sessions based on where they felt they could help most.

That drew Terick Thomas to mentoring and counseling. The 29-year-old former Marshall University football player works for Goodwill Industries and said having a caring adult can make a huge difference.

"I was once that guy who needed an extra push," the Washington, D.C., native said. "Some kids just need embraced by the community. If we work together it can happen sooner or later. Cause some of these kids don't have a later."

A number of school system employees gathered to discuss some of the committee's areas of interest, including adjusting the school day or trying four-day weeks. The committee also will focus on student engagement through skills training, after-school programming and attendance awareness.

The parent involvement discussion didn't rest solely on getting parents to care, but also on the issues that may be preventing parents from getting involved. Some are battling addiction, while others may not have graduated themselves and are intimidated by teachers.

That led to planning outreach events at community centers to talk with parents directly about their concerns and help them become more involved in their children's academic lives.

"Parents advocating for parents," said Angela Seay, a mother of three who works for a state agency. "That interests me: to empower parents which then empowers kids. But do that by going to where the parents are."

The early education committee is working on a pilot program with Marshall University to utilize graduate students as school-based mentors.

Regardless of the committee, it's all about pouring in the lives of children so they can achieve in life. That's what 60-year-old John Blevins told those in the mentoring and counseling committee. He recalled doing so well in elementary school he was moved ahead twice. But at Enslow Junior High School he became engaged with the wrong crowd and didn't finish eighth grade.

He left Huntington for a while, then returned when he was 30 years old. He earned his GED, then was accepted into Marshall University, where he came up a year short of graduating due to severe health problems.

"But I always wondered what that boy could have been if someone had reached into his life," Blevins said of his childhood.

For more information about Education Matters, visit http://unitedwayrivercities.org/edumatters.html or contact Sara Blevins at 304-523-8929, ext. 106, or sara.blevins@unitedwayrivercities.org.



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