Safer schools = happy students

Published 4:19 pm Friday, June 7, 2024

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In 2022, the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act distributed $1 billion to be allocated to schools across the country. North Carolina received $29.3 million of those funds to create the NC Stronger Connections Grant (NCSCG).

School districts across North Carolina, especially those in Tier One (economically distressed) counties, were encouraged to apply for funding. According to the State Board of Education, the purpose of the grant is to create safer and healthier learning environments for students while also providing support for families, educators, and communities.

Applications opened last year, but the State Board approved allocating these funds to the applicants during their monthly meeting in May.

Northampton County Schools and Hertford County Public Schools were among the 41 recipients who were awarded funds from the NCSCG. Both districts received the maximum amount of $675,000.

Sherita Cobb, who serves as Northampton’s Executive Director of Student Support, described their goal as creating a “support circle” with the district and community partners and family to meet student needs.

She noted, for example, that social and emotional mental health support would be one aspect of using the funds, as many students are still struggling with the aftereffects of disrupted learning from the pandemic.

“All of our efforts always end with academics. So supporting the whole child is actually a pathway to improve the achievement of students,” explained Northampton Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins.

“We’re here to help them develop those skills, so that the end result is that they’re happier students,” she continued. “Their learning environment is a healthier environment for growing and thriving. And we’re going to see better academic production from our students. That’s the goal of all this.”

Cobb said they plan to start with staff training, and then begin reaching out for community partnerships and creating opportunities for more family involvement.

“We can’t have success if our parents aren’t involved in what we’re doing,” she emphasized.

Dr. Atkins said she envisioned hosting community meetings as a way to bring people together.

“The best way to create community is to create shared experiences,” she explained. “What better way to do that than to create opportunities to share a meal together and hear parent voices during that time.”

The grant funds will be used by Northampton County Schools to help boost student success and help them become stronger students.

“Because they don’t remain students forever,” Dr. Atkins pointed out. “They become adults and become a part of our society and our economy.”

By the time they graduate, Cobb said they want to ensure the students are prepared for the future, no matter which path they take after graduation.

Hertford County Public Schools plans to use their grant funds to support the district’s strategic plan, which is commitment to student-centered growth and community well-being.

Safety will be one of their primary objectives with funds being utilized for security infrastructure throughout the district. That includes updating cameras, metal detectors, and an entry badging system.

“By enhancing school safety, we aim to create a peaceful atmosphere that promotes learning and personal development for all students,” said Dr. Jesse Pratt, Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools.

Another portion of the funds will be used to address chronic absenteeism and reduce dropout rates.

“Through personalized outreach programs, funded by the grant, we aim to boost attendance, prevent dropouts, and guide students in their career planning and transitions,” Dr. Pratt explained.

The district will also focus on building more family and community partnerships through workshops, engagement activities, and other programming opportunities. The goal is to bridge gaps, foster a sense of community, and ensure shared responsibility for student success.

“Hertford County Public Schools is dedicated to using the NCSCG funds to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment,” said Dr. Pratt. “This grant provides immediate resources and lays the foundation for long-term improvements in schools.

“The NCSCG award is a testament to our district’s dedication to creating a safe, nurturing, and high-achieving educational environment. We are excited to embark on this journey and look forward to its positive impact on our students, families, and community,” he concluded.