By Jennifer Wohlleb
The leaders of Berea’s Promise Neighborhood grant visualize the $30 million program as a pipeline that transports children in Clay, Jackson and Owsley counties from their cradles to their careers, with various smaller pipelines connecting along the way to provide them with what they need to be successful.
“We’re working to make sure these children are kindergarten ready, parents are reading to children at home, moving them from early childhood to elementary and the middle school, making sure they are college and career ready and providing support services across that entire academic pipeline,” said Sherry Taubert, Promise Neighborhood director of coordination and communication. “In addition to our academic services we’re providing, there’s a myriad of community-based services that we’re looking at, things like teen dating violence, sexual assaults, suicide prevention, substance abuse. So (the programming involves) any sort of community issue that prohibits that child from being safe in that community.”
The program is driven by both data and need, said grant Director Ginny Blackson, noting that while it may have a framework, the program is not cookie-cutter and allows each Neighborhood to tailor it to fit its own needs.
“We have a staff of about 40 … they use information and data about students to deliver services,” she said. “So, it may be a focus on attendance if they notice a kid isn’t coming to school, especially at the kindergarten level; we know that’s really important. It may be helping another student get up to grade level in math, it might be working with a group of kids who have similar needs. The work of the school-based staff really varies depending on the needs of the students in that building.”
Blackson said the U.S. Department of Education set 15 data points in the grant to determine progress, many of them long term.
“We’re going to be looking at this data ongoing, not just once a year, to inform our practice,” she said. “So if we’ve implemented this attendance strategy for kindergarten kids and we’re not noticing that kindergarten attendance is going up, we’re going to drop back and say, ‘OK, what’s not working here and what can we do different?’
“So it’s very much a results-based, data-driven approach to making sure that kids are successful. You use an academic case management system at the school level to look at every single kid in the neighborhood.”
Distance learning through the Neighborhood is also getting off the ground.
“We have built an infrastructure to deliver long-distance learning that will do a variety of things,” Blackson said. “It will provide an opportunity for a district like Owsley County for example, where there’s just 700 kids and you might have just three or four who want to take chemistry. We can beam core content classes to them. It’s also being used for credit recovery and for kids to take dual-credit classes.”
The program also is helping districts build capacity through professional development.
“We’re doing a lot of professional development for teachers, for parents, for early childhood providers. We really want to go in there and change practice, change habit and really make that lasting and systemic,” Blackson said. “We’re doing professional development for early childhood teachers, K-4 on integrating the visual arts with literacy instruction. We’re working with middle school teachers on how they can teach content to kids with low literacy skills. I’m doing a lot of work around distance learning and technology on how teachers can integrate it into instruction. There’s math professional development and there’s leadership professional development that’s working with principals.”
Building capacity is one of the main focuses of the program, so if the grant is not renewed when it ends, many of the programs will be able to continue through what’s started in the individual schools, the partnerships created among the school districts and the partnership within the community.
“That’s one of the things that I think is unique about Promise, we’re all about building capacity,” Taubert said. “We want to build capacity within those individual communities.”