Collaboration is the key.
The Hall County government recently received a grant to help at-risk high school students achieve in school and graduate — and a wide variety of agencies will work together to make that happen.
The grant, $94,317 from the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, creates a “system of care” in Hall County. The system connects literacy, mentoring and educational agencies to students struggling with tru0ancy, behavioral problems and substance abuse, among other issues.
“I think any time that we have students who need that kind of support, we need to be a coordinated effort to make sure that we provide them the best services that we can that will give them the opportunity to succeed,” said David Smith, executive director of Center Point, one of the agencies involved in the program.
Center Point will provide mentors for at least 15 youth referred through Hall County Juvenile Court.
“Mostly, the relationship involves the assigned mentor being there to be somebody to listen to and support the student,” said Kate Hoffmann, mentor program director for Center Point. “The main goal is to become their support person, listen to the problems that they’re having and then help the child brainstorm about how they can overcome any obstacles.”
Mary Carden, a juvenile court judge, said many kids who come through the court system could benefit from the program. The Hall County Juvenile Court will be one of the primary referral agencies for the system.
“These are the kids that don’t get picked up normally on the radar,” she said. “And this grant is for that purpose, to get these kids identified.”
Carden said some of the children coming through the courts have fallen behind in their education and need to get back on track, especially if they move around a lot and change schools from year to year.
She said she encountered one student who had never been in the same school for more than a year, and that had hindered his education.
Ava White, of Ava White Tutorials, is assisting with the literacy education aspect of the program.
She will train 12 individuals to assist students one-on-one with their reading skills, something she believes is key to getting at-risk students through high school.
“Their futures are very limited if we don’t give them reading and give them some tools to survive. We’re really trying to get the drop out rate under control,” White said. “If you can’t read, you’re lost in this world.”
Kevin Claussen, an educational specialist and chief operating officer for Parents Educating Parents and Professionals is reviewing applications now for people interested in literacy training through the grant.
Though he said the grant states services would be available for 60 students in the first year, he believes the system will be able to do more.
“Honestly, I feel that those numbers are going to be surpassed,” he said. “We got a referral system in place two weeks ago, and we’ve already gotten nine students referred.”
Those students will be able to get the help they need and avoid the “run around” Claussen said is common when parents seek help on their own. He said parents may be bounced from agency to agency as they try to find support for their child.
“After two or three times of that, a parent will stop looking for the help,” he said. “So if the parent doesn’t have to continue to look for the assistance and the assistance comes to them, it will provide the opportunity for the child to receive the assistance.”
He said he hopes the program will later expand to include children in younger grades.
And the only way for that to happen is for everybody to work together.
“It’s all about collaboration,” he said. “It’s about collaboration and agencies working together to make every thing that everyone’s doing work cohesively.”