Harvest awards grants

December 17, 2006

The Harvest Foundation has awarded about $1.7 million in grants, heavily focused on education initiatives.

The board announced Friday it would be awarding $1,040,000 to the Henry County Schools, $300,000 to the Martinsville Schools and $100,000 to Carlisle School to enhance and improve student achievement.

It also awarded $133,000 to United Way of Martinsville and Henry County for a one-year pilot program for a family-centered library that will distribute educational materials at the Blue Ridge Library in Martinsville and a separate $28,860 grant to the United Way to start its HOPE (Helping Others Progress Economically) initiative to help low-income people make better financial choices.

The board also announced a grant for $87,495 to the Dan River Basin Association for the development of the Gravely Nature Preserve System in southern Henry, a part of the rivers and trails system which includes multi-use trails, riverside parks and boating and access points.

Allyson Rothrock, interim executive director of Harvest, said education initiatives are important to the foundation.

"We believe in improving the learning environment," she said. "The best way for us to attract people to this area and improve our quality of life is to enhance the education of our citizens. We continue to evaluate these initiatives to make sure they are making a difference for our children and families."

Henry County School Superintendent Dr. Sharon Dodson said the funds will allow schools to continue years four and five of a project to implement a differentiated instruction philosophy. That project enables teachers to adapt the curriculum to each child's needs and learning style.

The goal of the differentiated Instruction philosophy is to build professional learning communities at each school so whether it is a student, teacher, cafeteria worker or bus driver, "we all have a role and we're all putting our efforts toward the same goal," Dodson said.

She said she is pleased with The Harvest Foundation's willingness to support the project and "I can already see the results of the program."

In the Martinsville schools, Superintendent Dr. Scott Kizner said much of the money will fund professional development for educators on teaching according to the Effective Schools model.

Kizner said that model is a body of research studying high performing schools throughout the country.

It identified seven unifying factors for these schools, which include clear school mission, high expectations for success, instructional leadership, frequent monitoring of student progress, student time on task, a safe and orderly environment and home-school relations.

The money will fund conferences and training in and out of the classroom.

"The Harvest Foundation's been a really good partner in the whole restructuring of our public schools," Kizner said, including moving to a K-5 system in the elementary schools.

"We could not be as successful in our restructuring and professional development if they didn't support us," he said.

Gayle Jessee, assistant head of school for Carlisle School, said the Harvest grant is continuation of an earlier grant. Part of it is used for professional development and part to implement the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program for sixth to tenth graders.

The school also is looking to implement the program, an advanced educational program which prepares students to be world citizens, for primary grades.

"We're very happy to receive the grant. It's going to help us to continue to provide professional development opportunities for our faculty," Jessee said.

Sheryl Agee, director of Success by Six for the United Way, said the grant will give the United Way a chance to test a family-centered library that may benefit the community.

She said Success by Six will be teaming with other partners in the community to create resources in the Martinsville library to help caregivers better prepare children for the start of school.

It is part of a national program called the "Family Place" library, and it also is intended to help the library communicate that it is a place for families.

Such resources as parenting classes and a media center with parenting and educational information will be offered, Agee said.

"If successful, we will expand it out to the remaining branches of the Blue Ridge Regional library," she said.

Kathy Rogers, executive director of United Way, said she is "really excited" about getting funding for the HOPE initiative.

The program is designed to improve financial literacy in low-income working families. It will include education and classes at such places as Grace Network and the free medical clinic, sites where those families can get their taxes done for free and a pilot work place financial literacy class at Stanley Furniture.

"It's something that's very much needed in the community," Rogers said.

The initiative also hopes to promote the earned income tax credit, which can lead to bigger tax refunds for low-income working families. Some people who should take advantage of this credit do not, Rogers said.

The initiative also hopes to help with savings eventually, promoting what are known as individual development accounts. In these accounts, each dollar a person saves toward home ownership, education or starting a business can be matched by state and federal dollars.

She said the initiative already has received an additional $9,000 for the program from the Wachovia Foundation and $7,500 in state funds.

The Harvest money will fund a part-time position to oversee the program, Rogers said.


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