Johnson County receives federal grant to improve grades

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
The Johnson County School System was recently awarded a $500,000 federal grant to help students improve grades and increase learning. The grant is part of the Bringing Up Grades (BUG) effort under the "Safe Schools/Healthy Students" program which is being implemented this semester in schools across the nation.
Only 23 national grants were awarded, and Johnson County was the only county school system in the state to receive one of them. Issued through the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice, the grant will provide funding for three years.
Schools and communities across the nation will receive $41 million, and less than 15 percent of the 350 applications for the grant were accepted.
The grants are designed to make schools safer, foster healthy child development and prevent aggressive and violent behavior and drug and alcohol abuse among the nation's children, according to reports issued by Community Oriented Policing Services, the joint agency administering the funds.
"If American students don't feel safe, they can't learn," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in a released statement. "We need to do all we can to give them a chance to succeed. These grants will help open the doors to academic learning by shutting out the dangers of the street."
The Johnson County BUG program will incorporate several local organizations including Johnson County Schools, Johnson County Sheriff's Department, Frontier Health and East Tennessee State University.
"I am extremely pleased to see Johnson County receive this federal grant," U.S. Congressman William Jenkins stated. "This comprehensive effort will be a success thanks to close collaboration with the Johnson County School System, the Johnson County Sheriff's Department, Frontier Health and ETSU. Having all of these groups working together will provide students with a multitude of strategies to keep their schools safe, free from violence and drugs, and ready to assist with mental health prevention and treatment programs. I applaud the efforts of all of our local community leaders in the creation of this program."
Minnie Miller, director of Johnson County Schools, said that she hopes the program will begin to help students once it has been put into action. "Now that we're funded, the coalition will be able to provide a safety counselor, training for violence prevention, intervention and treatment services for early alcohol and other drug use, Project BASIC in kindergarten through third grades, health education and tutor/mentors," she said. "We're very excited to have the entire grant and especially the BUG portion of the grant. This is a way we can provide some students with tutor/mentors to help them."
Miller stressed that the program's predominant focus is to increase student learning.
Project BASIC will be provided in five elementary schools by Frontier Health and will add two additional staff members. BASIC (Better Attitudes and Skills In Children) is a school-based mental health wellness and early intervention/prevention program. In addition, student assistance and mental health counseling will be expanded for middle and high school students in the county school system. A health educator will be provided to the school system by ETSU, and it is expected that 10 tutor/mentors will be employed to aid in the program.
"Incentives will be given to students who bring up one grade without lowering another grade as a recognition for their effort each nine weeks," a release from the Johnson County school system states.