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Technical assistance specialists Nancy Kelly (back table, right) and Gwendolyn Willis-Darpoh listen as area residents share their experiences and express concerns about the Laurel and Lawrence County school districts’ Safe Schools/Healthy Students programs.
April 23, 2011
Creating a safer, healthier learning environment
Specialists visit Laurel program
By Charlotte Graham,
LAUREL — Specialists from the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Technical Assistance Center headquartered in Newton, Mass. visited Laurel and Monticello this week to hear what students, parents, school officials, mentors and community leaders are saying about local SS/HS programs.
Technical assistance specialists Gwendolyn Willis-Darpoh and Nancy Kelly made onsite visits to Laurel and Lawrence County schools, interviewed program participants and staff, and held community meetings in Laurel and Lawrence County allowing those in attendance to voice their thoughts and concerns about the program.
Laurel and Lawrence County school districts have united to establish a Safe Schools/Healthy Students project to create safer and healthier learning environments for students in pre-school through 12th grade. The Lawrence County School District is the lead organization in the project which is funded by a $1 million federal grant from the federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative. Lindsey Blackledge serves as project director.
On Tuesday, students, parents and others gathered at the SS/HS headquarters in the Sawmill Square Mall to share their experiences and discuss concerns about the mentoring program offered by SS/HS.
Jones County Supervisor Barry Saul, who is in his first year as a mentor, said he enjoys working with the young man that was assigned to him.
“We spend a lot of time together each week,” he said. “It’s a good program, but I would like to see more parental support.”
Shuanita Weathersby said she has served as a mentor for four years, although at one time she tried to quit. However, Weathersby said mentoring coordinator Johnnice Ulmer wouldn’t let that happen.
“She kept saying, Ms. Weathersby, you can’t stop doing it,” said Weathersby. “Gave me the push I needed to continue.”
Weathersby said she has a great relationship with her mentee. They do a lot of activities and share different things with each other.
“We are friends and we enjoy doing things together,” she said. “I think Mrs. Ulmer is doing a wonderful job and we all appreciate the work she is doing.”
Children who spoke during the meeting spoke highly of Ulmer, too. Most said that because of Ulmer and the mentoring program they have seen their grades improve and develop better attitudes. They also have more self-esteem.
Parents and school officials acknowledge they have noticed changes in the study habits, as well as in the character of some of the youngsters. They added that while there are many advantages of having the program in the schools, a major disadvantage is the lack of transportation.
They noted that the programs to provide more opportunities for children if it had its own transportation and a personal activities budget.
Willis-Darpoh said to see a room full of people from the community come out in support of the mentoring program speaks volumes. She said their comments were greatly appreciated.
“This mentoring program is really like the village in the old African proverb... It takes a village to raise a child,” she said.