By Madelynn Coldiron
In a classroom at Carr Creek Elementary School in Knott County, fifth- and sixth-grade students are working on their reading skills in small groups with Kathy Smith and a few trained “grannies.” It looks like your typical pull-out intervention session.
But this session and a student exercise class in the gym down the hall are funded in large part by a group more associated with Africa than Appalachia. Like the children in far-flung, Third World environs, the Knott County students’ photographs also are sent to their sponsors who donate to Save the Children.
PHOTO: Tutor Kay Massey reviews a reading lesson with Heather Jent during Save the Children’s literacy program at Carr Creek Elementary.
The nonprofit, which aims to give children “a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm,” began implementing what it calls its “core programming” in southeastern Kentucky schools in 2003, though the group’s work in the U.S. actually started in Harlan County in the 1930s, said Shane Garver, deputy director of Save the Children in Kentucky.
“A lot of the media attention goes to the international work that Save the Children does, but there’s a lot of work that goes on in the United States that doesn’t ever make it into the media,” said Elizabeth Pulliam, a Save the Children school-age program specialist who covers Knott and Owsley county schools.
The nonprofit works in five of Knott County’s elementary schools, and its K-12 school.
Save the Children’s approach, “is more that the long-term way to defeat poverty is through literacy, not meeting their short-term, basic needs,” said Karen Sandlin, the district’s curriculum and instruction supervisor.
The core programs are Literacy, for elementary-age students; Early Steps to School Success for ages 0-5, which works with parents and children; and Healthy Choices, which focuses on exercise and nutrition in the elementary grades. Not all programs are offered in every school, and some are offered after school and during the summer.
“We try to meet the needs of the communities we’re working in,” Pulliam said. Funding is another factor in the nonprofit’s programming.
As an example of the changing landscape, Early Steps was offered in Knott County schools last year but not this year; the organization is shifting Healthy Choices to an after-school program next year instead of an in-school program.
Smith, the Save the Children literacy coordinator at Carr Creek, said her students “have come so far” thanks to that program.
About half the school’s students are involved in the literacy program, which holds half-hour blocks for rotating groups of students all day long. They are not pulled out of any classes that are part of the state accountability system.
Bobby Hall, a Save the Children literacy coordinator at Beaver and Jones Fork elementaries in Knott County, said the Save literacy program “plays a vital role in student performance on the reading section of the state test at both schools …”
The Healthy Choices program at Carr Creek provides each class with a 30-minute session of daily physical activity, with nutrition information also incorporated. A food lab coordinator visits schools once a month and leads children in preparing a healthy snack with a recipe to take home.
Knott County Schools Superintendent Kim King said the district also has other types of reading intervention programs in its schools, but there is no duplication. “We have to do a lot of planning for that,” she said. “We make sure the teachers work together before they start interventions to see who is going to target what kids.”
Duplication of services is why the nonprofit does not serve special-needs students, Pulliam said, since the district’s own staff is already doing so.
Knott County school board Chairman Randy Combs said Save the Children’s work is part of the district’s overall academic growth.
“I think it’s one of the best programs that our schools could be involved in,” he said. “Any organization that wants to get involved and help, we’re open. We want everybody to work together and get involved. We’re not Lone Rangers.”
How it works
When donors provide funds to sponsor a child, the funding is pooled by Save the Children and sent to the appropriate school district as a subgrant. The grant pays a portion of the salaries of those who work in the school programs as well as a small stipend and mileage to the trained “foster grandparents,” who are more like volunteers. The district must match at a 27 percent rate. There are 800 sponsored children in Knott County, said Carolyn Sparkman, STC’s sponsorship liaison for the county. The subgrant subsidizes the salaries of 18-20 people in Knott County schools, from two to four at each school.
The group also provides the district $4,000 a year to buy books, which has been a blessing in these lean years with no state-provided textbook money, Sandlin said.
Garver said one of the strong points of Save’s school programs is the training it provides to its workers – “a wealth of professional development” that can be shared with other teachers and ultimately remains with the district.