Enrichment program seeks fall funding

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

PONTOTOC – Leaders continue to seek funds to maintain a Northeast Mississippi program that pays students to enrich their younger peers.
The Performance Enrichment Program – or PEP – uses high school juniors and seniors and college freshmen to teach various lessons to third- to sixth-graders. Three Rivers Planning and Development District piloted the program at three schools in Union County in the spring of 2010 and administered it at various schools in Northeast Mississippi during both the fall and spring semesters last year.
“We have a good sample, and every school we’ve been in has seen success,” said Roger Browning, the special projects coordinator for the Workforce Investment Act division with Three Rivers.
Funding, however, is still uncertain for the upcoming fall semester.
Last fall, Three Rivers received a $50,000 donation from the CREATE Foundation and a $100,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to implement the program at 13 schools in Chickasaw, Calhoun, Pontotoc and Lee counties. It has requested a renewal of that grant, but has not yet heard an answer, although Browning said conversations with the foundation have been encouraging.
If money can’t be found for this fall, Browning said they’ll continue to seek avenues to reinstate it in the near future.
The goal, Browning said, is to find a source that will sustain the program for three years. Three Rivers does not take any administrative fees for the program, which costs about $12,000 per campus per semester.
“We think we can validate the program if we can set it up on a three-year basis and see if students really grow,” Browning said.
PEP focuses on enrichment rather than tutoring, Browning said. The high school and college students lead the elementary students in various hands-on or technology-based activities designed to help them better understand what they are learning in their regular classrooms. Students attend two hour-long sessions each week over 12 weeks.
Browning estimates that 70 to 80 percent of the students in the program have shown an equivalent of a year’s worth of academic growth during the semester they’ve participated. That is according to a test the students take at the beginning and end of the program.
The tutors are chosen from the best and the brightest students on each campus, and they earn $15 to $18 an hour, depending on how many of them are on a campus.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com