Staff and volunteer mentors with Cheraw Intermediate School aim to help nearly 100 at-risk youth through special afterschool and summer programs designed to improve the students’ chances of graduating high school and college.
The Education and Economic Development Act (EEDA) At-Risk Student Innovative Competitive Grant is a three-year grant worth $292,500 —$75,000 the first year, then $127,500 and $92,000 the following two years. The grant amount was the largest awarded to any school in the state. Cheraw Intermediate School was one of 21 schools awarded funds through the grant this cycle.
The General Assembly has provided funding for the South Carolina State Department of Education to be set aside for the Office of Student Intervention Services to support the efforts of this grant.
The focus and overall goal of the “At-Risk Student Innovative Grant” proposal is to raise student achievement, address disparities of students from different socio-economic backgrounds, close racial and ethnic achievement gaps, increase the level of expectations of all students and ultimately reduce dropout rates in school through a well-developed comprehensive, multidimensional and reliable system of learning supports. Price said at the beginning of the six-week application process that nearly 75 percent of Cheraw Intermediate School students received subsidized meals.
The core work will be done by Sam Price, special education instructional coach at the school, along with Fran Watson, literacy coach, and Jessica Griffin, math coach. Combined with volunteer mentors from around Chesterfield County, students will receive small-group intervention, instruction and counseling tailored to their individual needs.
Five or six teachers, Price said, will work with groups of up to seven children each. The set-up “allows them to have very small group instruction that is very beneficial.”
Students in grades 3 through 5 are eligible to participate. Price said the goal is to serve nearly 100 students over the three-year period — meeting roughly one-third of those who are considered at-risk.
“There’s not enough money to serve all of them,” she said.
Staff will identify and “select, very carefully, which students would actually benefit the most.”
The after-school program will be offered each Wednesday and Thursday. A Feb. 18 training session helped prepare nearly two dozen volunteer mentors from churches and other groups. The mentors will be paired with students based on interests and interview questions, Price said.
Mentors, all of whom have been cleared through background checks, also will be encouraged to visit the school during special programs, assemblies and or stop by to have lunch with students, Price said.
Part of the grant funds a mental health counselor for the duration of the project, Price said. Not all students will require services from that position but Price suggested the whole community will benefit. In addition, the grant helps students begin to think about the future.
The early intervention program, Price said, “will allow us to have three years of working with these students.”
Mentors, she said, will “begin talking about career planning, what you want to be when you grow up and how you get there. Students need to know it starts, really, in kindergarten.”
The program is designed to interact with students for three years, but Price hopes the work during that time sets the students up for a bright future. Price said staff will follow students’ progressions in future years and “monitor how many of them are actually graduating on time.”
“We want to see the success that this is going to bring,” Price said. “Just because people have a need doesn’t mean they can’t become a high school graduate or a college graduate.”