Major grant creates TMS after-school program

TUPELO – Students at Tupelo Middle School will receive extra tutoring and more exposure to the arts through a grant of nearly $1 million for a new after-school and summer program.
The goal is to begin the new service in early October thanks to a federal grant of $950,000 over five years from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.
That money will be used for supplies, hiring tutors and chaperones, busing students home at the end of the day and providing after-school snacks.
The program is available for all seventh- and eighth-grade children in the Tupelo Public School District, including those who are home-schooled or enrolled in private schools.
“I think this will be a wonderful opportunity for us to provide some services we had not been able to provide in the past,” said Tupelo Middle School Principal Linda Clifton.
“Students will receive some additional tutoring, as well as some services like art and music programs that we were not able to provide because they could not fit it into their schedules. Not only will the tutoring help them academically, the art program will enrich them.”
The new program targets students who scored in the minimal and basic categories in language arts and mathematics on the Mississippi Curriculum Test II, the state’s assessment test.
However, participation in the program isn’t limited to these students. Kristy Luse, the seventh-grade assistant principal at TMS who devised the program and wrote the successful grant application, said there will be programs to appeal to all students.
She hopes to have a pre-Advanced Placement crash course for students who are nervous about taking an AP course for the first time and an intramural program for students who might be anxious about competing in sports for the first time. She will also focus on fine-arts with classes for dance, visual arts and performing arts geared to help students learn in new ways.
“It is flexible to meet the needs of any student, but our target audience is to serve those who scored minimum or basic,” Luse said.
The funding also will allow the school to add computers or other new technology targeted toward helping at-risk students.
Luse said the program will likely run for about two hours in the afternoon for three days a week, with about a half-hour set aside each morning before school for tutoring.
The program will also extend into the summer.
Luse titled the program “Travel One-on-One, No Passport Required,” saying she was inspired after returning home one day and seeing her passport sitting on her table.
“I wanted to do this because of our children in need and at risk,” Luse said. “Middle school is such an imperative time where students need additional support, and we can also provide support to the parents by helping the students with their homework.
“These are my kids. I’ve seen that change at the middle school level more than in any grade. I’ve seen it work.”
The program will extend its services by partnering with school resource officers and organizations such as the Police Athletic League, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
The TPSD and the community will match the grant in-kind with services that are already in place, meaning that no additional money will be required.
The program should also aid the district’s dropout prevention by providing additional help to struggling students.
“It is really hard to put into words what this will mean to the district,” said TPSD Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell.
“It is a wonderful way for kids to grow and learn. The program will be able to put a halt on that summer-learning drop for some students and to give some additional support during the school year. I really think it will help keep kids in school.”
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program supports the creation of learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours.
The program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Awards are made to State Education Agencies, which determine how the money will be appropriated.
In 2008, the program awarded over $1 billion in grants, including nearly $14 million in Mississippi.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662)678-1590 or at chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal