Program to help at-risk youth continues

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Hunter Elementary School started an after school program, called Project Boomerang, for the 2003-2004 school year to help at risk children improve their academic performance. Debbie Madgett, writer of a grant for the program and Carter County School System employee, appeared before the Rotary Club of Elizabethton, "to get collaboration and partnerships going" to expand the program into other elementary schools throughout the county.
   Madgett is in the process of writing an application for another grant from the State Department of Education with the help of Project Boomerang Director Joy Scalf and Assistant Director Tiffany Rowland, to expand the program. Approximately $7.2 million in federal grant moneys will be awarded throughout the state.
   Madgett can request no more than $110,000 for each school she would like to see implement the program. The deadline for the grant is May 7 and she hopes to hear if Carter County schools will receive additional grant money by July 1.
   Project Boomerang helps 75 different students each academic year. The program meets from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. each afternoon during the school week and focuses on a variety of tasks, including tutoring, behavior management, music and art therapy, and violence prevention.
   The project was awarded a $148,000 grant in the fall 2003 to begin the program. Since this time the program is reaping rave reviews from teachers and parents.
   Fifty-three percent of students have increased their grades in reading by three or more points. Language arts grades have risen by three points or more for half of the students and 34 percent of students have raised their math grades by three or more points. These results are based on comparison reports from the first nine-week period to the second nine-week period.
   Student conduct has also improved. Results show 59 percent of students decreased their poor conduct behaviors, while 41 percent remained the same. The results were encouraging in that none of the students' conduct scores dropped.
   An overwhelming 97 percent of students increased their social skills enrichment by five points or more, based on a pre- and post- social-skills checklist completed by the teacher.
   Students attend the program on referral from a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, or an outside source, such as the health department or the Department of Children's Services.
   Beth Estep, with the Upper East Tennessee Human Resource Development Agency, oversees implementation of the grant program. Project Boomerang's slogan is "Turning Risk into Opportunity."