Federal grant to help HHS reach out to at-risk students

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
As he riffles through a 2-inch stack of paperwork detailing the grant program USD 410 recently received, Dale Honeck’s enthusiasm is palpable.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Honeck, principal of Hillsboro High School. “I think it’s going to be something really neat.”

The first week in August, Honeck learned that the district received a $54,000 federal grant through the State Department of Education for the “School Support Program”-a program to help at-risk children in the high school.

Paraeducator Janette Brubacher has been hired through the grant to coordinate the HHS grant program. She comes to the table with a degree in social work.

“Our ultimate goal is to help the students be successful when they leave Hillsboro High School and connect with their community,” Brubacher said.

In the next few months, Honeck and Brubacher will tailor the federal program to meet the needs of students in the local school system.

“It’s not a quick fix,” Honeck said. “First of all, we have to develop and then implement the program.”

Target day for Brubacher’s first day on the job is Oct. 1, if all the pre-planning and organization of the program fall in place in a timely manner.

“We’re pioneers here,” Brubacher said. “We’ll start formulating the program in October. This is something that can continue to evolve as new ideas emerge.”

To achieve their goals, they plan to involve USD 410 students, faculty and staff, members of the Chamber of Commerce, local business owners, volunteers, and students and faculty at Tabor College.

“What we’ll do in this program is try to help students develop to be the best they can be by using the assets in the school and community,” Honeck said.

“We can draw on assets that we value in our community-to help students become better students, stay in school, be happier and enjoy their four years in high school.”

According to Honeck, students eligible for the program would be high school students who exhibit several at-risk factors, such as the following:

— generational poverty.

— a home environment in which either one or both parents have not received a high-school diploma.

— a transitional environment where the student has moved from school to school.

— poor attendance.

— suspensions.

— low test scores and grade point averages.

“But if it’s just a couple of grades slipping in the last year or so, stable family, parents are productive and in the home-that’s not one of the students (for the program),” Honeck said.

Once the students have been identified, their needs could be met in a variety of ways throughout the school year, such as the following proposed programs:

— Academics in the classroom-students would be eligible to attend a daily class focusing on academic skills, such as reading and math, and receive a grade and credit for the classroom work.

“Janette would run that,” Honeck said.

“That would be her responsibility to set that up and make sure that we meet their needs.”

— Tutoring-students could participate in an in-school or after-school tutoring program. Resource personnel being considered as tutors would be high-school students of high-academic standing, Tabor College students planning to be career educators and community volunteers.

“We do not have an after-school tutoring program in high school,” Honeck said. “What we’d like to do is have a more identified program with people we can contact who will come in and help.”

— Work-study-students who succeed in the program may be eligible to work part-time during or after school for local businesses.

“We like to have incentives,” Honeck said.

“You can’t go out and work on an independent study or on-the-job-training unless you’re a senior. But if those kids came in the program, worked and did the things we asked them to do to improve their academics and be good citizens, maybe we could get them downtown as a junior.”

— Mentoring-students might be mentored one-on-one by Tabor students or community volunteers serving as role models.

— Community service-students would volunteer their time in the community.

“So if you volunteered during a suspension, that would cut you down to maybe two of your three suspension days,” Honeck said.

“And with this grant, we can hire a person to come in and keep the student in here-so we would do an in-school suspension.”

Peabody USD 398 also received the federal grant, Honeck said. “We have the same grant for basically the same idea. But Peabody’s program could be totally different from ours.”

Brubacher will be in charge of public-relations work as she addresses local civic and community organizations.

“She’s going to be the voice of this program,” Honeck said. “And I’d like to get a nice colored brochure to go to every parent explaining the program. Promoting this is going to be important in the sense that we would like to have parents actually call us and say, ‘I want my student in the program.'”

After Honeck and Brubacher have an opportunity to research similar at-risk programs, they plan to form a resource committee composed of high-school faculty, staff and administration, members of the Chamber of Commerce and Heath Marrs, a faculty member of the psychology department at Tabor College.

“He was brought on board in the grant to do the evaluation of the program,” Honeck said. “He’s done evaluations and knows what kind of data to collect.”

Evaluations and data are important components of any grant to determine if the program is successful and should be continued, Honeck said.

Honeck originally thought the district only had a year to work with the grant.

“When we first got word we were getting the grant, we were under the impression it would be a one-year grant with chances of renewing it,” Honeck said.

“Just one year and get evaluated, that was crazy, because we couldn’t pull together anything like we’re wanting to do in two weeks and get the program started so there would be something to evaluate.”

By mid-September, he learned that it was “probably a five-year grant,” Honeck said.

“It’s two to three years for sure, and the fourth or fifth might be tailored or cut back a little bit because we already have supplies and training.”

According to the grant, the suggested minimum number of students in the program is 15. Honeck said he anticipated eventually involving 10 percent of the student-body population, which would be about 23 students.

Brubacher said she hopes to set up an early evaluation of middle-school students who might benefit from the program when they enter high school.

Honeck anticipates Brubacher will work a few weeks during the summer after school is out and another few weeks before school begins.

“So what she can do in the summer is help kids in the transition from middle to high school,” Honeck said. “Plus, it might be a time when she needs to start building a list of people who will take kids next year if we need to have a business sponsor for a student.”

Two other priorities on Honeck’s agenda are publicizing the program and reaching out to families.

“We’d love to work more closely with families than we have in the past,” Honeck said.

“Not only do we know kids who are at school every day do better, but kids who have adult contacts do better. When parents are involved in the kid’s education, kids do better.”

Honeck said he see the program as a continuing opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the students and not let any of them slip between the cracks.

“Our job is to educate kids, so when they leave this school, they’ve developed the skills-academic, decision making, problem solving, character and personal relationship.”

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