UNION — An innovative program at Sims Middle School will receive thousands of dollars in state funding over the next couple of years.
Sims Middle School’s “School within a School” program is one of 21 recipients from across the state to be awarded a 2013-2014 At-Risk Innovation Grant, which will total over $160,000 over two and one-half years.
The S.C. General Assembly passed the South Carolina Education and Economic Development Act of 2005 (EEDA) to provide “for the development of a curriculum organized around a career cluster system that must provide students with both strong academics and real-world problem solving skills” (S.C. Code Ann. § 59-59-10 et seq.). More specifically, the EEDA requires that the needs of students “at risk for being poorly prepared for the next level of study or for dropping out of school” (S.C. Code Ann. § 59-59-150).
The focus and overall goal of the “At-Risk Student Innovative Grant” proposal is to raise student achievement, address disparities of students from different socio-economic backgrounds, close racial and ethnic achievement gaps, increase the level of expectations of all students and ultimately reduce dropout rates in school through a well-developed comprehensive, multidimensional and reliable system of learning supports.
The “School within a School” program at Sims was launched during the 2012-2013 school year to target students — based on attendance, discipline, grades and other characteristics — with intensive ELA support at the heart. District Coordinator of Instruction and grant writer Tabitha Talley said the program model provides those students with a customized self-paced learning environment. Talley said the grant funding will allow the program to offer more social and academic opportunities and provide additional teacher support. The award will also allow Sims to begin offering after-school programs for students who need extra assistance three days a week, and a summer program will be offered for the next three years to ensure students are successful as they leave the middle school.
“I am so pleased that Mr. Connolly and Mrs. Talley recognized the need to provide a different experience for a group of our students at Sims,” said Union County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall. “Their planning and organization has created a model that is unique in the state and quite successful. Mrs. Talley has even researched and successfully located a funding source. This program is an example of how our instructional leaders go above and beyond to best serve the needs of our students.”
Talley said those involved are excited and proud of the program, and this grant will take it to the next level.
“Sometimes you have to think outside of the box to come up with ways to help these students experience success in school,” Talley said. “We have learned so much in the last two years and will use this grant to show these students the opportunities that come with graduation from high school and college. These funds will allow us to participate in community service learning projects, offer more resources to the students and their families, visit college campus and provide more opportunities for these students to experience cultural, social and academic activities.”
Talley said the program is vital to the futures of students who have never been recognized for positive behavior or academic performance.
“Everyone can learn and experience success, and we are working to ensure that we are offering those opportunities,” Talley said. “When we received PASS reports and I saw ‘exemplary’ and ‘met’ for students who were ‘not met’ the previous year, I knew we were on the right track. We are still adjusting and trying to figure out the best way to meet the needs of these students, but I believe we have something here.”
Talley said the teachers, administrators, mentors and community members who work with the program are changing lives and the way things are done in schools.
“We know that we have to be creative in the 21st century to ensure we are preparing our students for a globally competitive world,” Talley said. “It is exciting to work in a school district that recognizes the need for innovation and we are working on several projects to prepare the students in Union County to be college and career ready.”
Talley, Connolly and Adult Education Director Eric Childers were also selected to present this model during the South Carolina Association of School Administrators Innovative Ideas Institute in Myrtle Beach, SC this summer.
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, Ext. 29.