School board honors early-ed program for children, parents

Date Published: 
January 31, 2014

They say it takes a village to raise a child and, for 16 years, the Indian River School District has taught young children and their families through Project VILLAGE (Verbally Intensive Literacy and Learning Activities for Growth in Education).

The IRSD School Board honored the program’s winning of the rare Five Star Recognition from the STARS Program at their Jan. 27 meeting.

The Project VILLAGE dream came from community leaders who realized some children weren’t “ready to come to school because they couldn’t speak English and could not afford preschool,” said Audrey Carey, IRSD supervisor of elementary instruction.

But, through its original 1997 mission and later requirements of many grants, Project VILLAGE doesn’t just teach small children who are academically at risk and economically challenged, many of whom don’t speak English. It also helps with doctor and dentist appointments.

The parents also receive a lot of attention.

“It’s really neat that we have an opportunity to talk to our parents and find out what they need,” said Tull. Project VILLAGE teaches parents about many family issues, such as discipline or child abuse, or sometimes just the basics, such as how to keep house or how to grocery shop on a budget.

“The majority are lower-income — some unbelievably lower-income,” Tull said. “Our responsibility is to set up workshops and help them gain those skills.”

Each family sets personal goals for the year.

“I’m very happy to share with you, in our eight years of the family service coordinator program, only four families have not reached their goals,” Tull said. “Some of those goals have been very difficult, but they pressed away and have become successful.”

Parents also attend monthly policy council meetings, electing their own leaders to represent them. Representatives work with a committee, which includes leaders from the IRSD School Board, the local business community and more. They examine the school budget, busing and school atmosphere, then report back to the monthly parents’ meeting.

To avoid a disconnect, Project VILLAGE sends all paperwork to parents in Spanish and English.

Children also have an advantage of mentoring, dance classes, book collections and more, from other schools.

“They’re our youngest students, and we’re reaching them in a variety of ways,” Carey said. Community support and other grants have also allowed for a Project VILLAGE scholarship for graduating seniors.

Having grown from eight Head Start students to today’s 150 children in four locations, “We’ve grown tremendously,” Carey said. “It really is amazing to see that happen.”

School Board Member Doug Hudson also commended the program, having seen the “interaction between parents and students and how eager they are to learn.”

In other school board news:

• The board unanimously approved (with Shaun Fink absent) Michael Thompson’s Eagle Scout landscaping project to provide hands-on planting at Phillip C. Showell Elementary.

The Center for Inland Bays was also given approval for a rain garden project at Millsboro Middle, which would be student-maintained. The school is only responsible for getting Miss Utility markings and for repositioning the gutter downspout to the garden.

• The Indian River High School Alumni Association is leading the way in designing and fundraising for a front sign for the otherwise unmarked high school. “We’re very much in favor of the project. We just want to make sure we’re moving forward with this smartly, make sure we’re in compliance” with the Town of Dagsboro and Department of Transportation, said School Board Member Rodney Layfield.

• The board unanimously approved (with Fink absent) the first reading of Policy IKE: Promotion & Retention and the final reading of JEDB: Student Dismissal Precautions — Release of Students from School.

• Counselor Cheryl Carey was honored for winning one of three Exemplary Mentoring Coordinator Awards as an advocate and coordinator for mentoring at Phillip Showell.

“The amazing work that she has done stood out among a strong pool” of candidates, superintendent Susan Bunting said.

• Jeanine Moore of Long Neck Elementary has won the 2012 Delaware Presidential Award in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

“She’s one of 102 people across the nation recognized for their outstanding work” based on a “stringent set of criteria,” said Bunting. “I hired her back in 1996. I’m pleased to see what has happened since then. We’re extremely proud of what you have accomplished.”

• The superintendent also honored Common Core writers Amy Heacock, Casey Hershelman, Dawn Baker and Stephanie Hughes, all of East Millsboro); Wendy Murray of Lord Baltimore; Melissa Grise of John M. Clayton; Shannon Gallo, Lauren Kirk and Megan Orhelein, all of Long Neck Elementary; Melissa Grunewald and Heather McCabe of Phillip Showell; Karen Anderson, Kelsea Dell, Haley Mears, Lisa Richardson and Stefanie Riddle of Millsboro Middle; Lauren Grise and Amanda Swain of Southern Delaware School of the Arts; Diane Comolli, Brian Lekites, Michelle Peeling, Laura Quillen and Lonnie Riley of Indian River High School; Allisa Booth, Bruce Copeland, Katie McCoy, Anna Ruggiero and Alina Yohn of Sussex Central High School; and Sharyn Crandell and Melody Huebner from the district’s Educational Complex.

• Parent Lloyd Elling congratulated the district on providing “very clear and helpful” notifications to families during recent snow-related school closures.

He also returned to encourage the district to change the Indian mascot used by the district and some of its schools, describing it as a stereotyped image that would have been on-par with using the name of “Moors,” “slaves,” “Nanticoke” or other minorities who were roped into the 1881 “Indian River School Districts for a Certain Class of Colored Persons,” which in 1969 became the Indian River School District.

Elling again asserted that the Indians name and generic image promotes a legacy of racism.

“We have not allowed ourselves to feel shame. I call upon you to make this change,” said Elling, who again suggested a mascot representing the nearby ocean, such as dolphins or green turtles, be used instead.

He ended good-naturedly, “Thank you for all the time you put in and for listening to people like me, year after year.”

• In reviewing the typical list of school choice applications, Board Member Leolga Wright asked why some students were denied admission to the schools of their choice. Administrator of Student Services Preston Lewis, explained that schools look at attendance and grades from the student’s home school before automatically offering enrollment.

• Board Member James Hudson reported that the district’s publicity campaign was to end with January, with the airing of the last radio spot.

The next school board meeting is Monday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. at Sussex Central High School. The school safety committee meets beforehand at 6 p.m., for northern schools. Committee meetings are scheduled for Feb. 3 at the Education Complex in Selbyville: Curriculum on 3:15 p.m.; Policy at 4:30 p.m.; Buildings & Grounds at 6 p.m.; and Finance at 7 p.m.

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IRSD extends marking period due to cancelations

The Indian River School District’s second marking period was twice extended this month, finally ending Tuesday, Jan. 28. Originally moved from Jan. 23 to Jan. 24 because of weather-related school cancelations, the marking period was extended again to allow teachers and students to finish mid-term exams and other work.

The issuance of report cards was delayed one day, until Wednesday, Feb. 5.

The school board will still have to decide later how to make up the lost days.

The IRSD had four snow days in January, plus a two-hour fog delay and a three-hour-early dismissal. On Jan. 22, there was an official state of emergency in Delaware, as declared by the governor, which usually excuses districts from having to add makeup days, said IRSD spokesman Dave Maull.

“There’s more weather coming in tonight, so it may not be over yet,” Maull said Tuesday night, just before Sussex County got about 3.5 inches of snow, canceling school once again, on Wednesday, Jan. 29.