Hunter Elementary School receives $148,000 grant for new after-school program

By Julie Fann
star staff

The Carter County School System was awarded a $148,000 grant this fall to begin a special after-school program at Hunter Elementary School aimed at assisting children with a wide variety of needs. Approved by the state Department of Health, five area county school systems applied for the grant.
   "We feel special for the fact that only one school (system) got this grant in upper East Tennessee out of five. It was a very competitive grant, and they liked the aspect of case management that we presented, along with music therapy," said Joy Scalf, director of the program which began in September and is titled "Project Boomerang".
   Scalf, formerly the family resource director for CCSS, wrote the grant proposal with Meredith Trott and Debbie Madgett. Trott is the vocational education director for CCSS, and Debbie Madgett coordinates technology for vocational education.
   "We are thankful to Hunter Elementary for allowing us (to do this) because the proposal was handed out to every elementary school in Carter County, and Hunter was the only school that was interested in it. We are particularly thankful to Principal Paul Gouge and Assistant Principal Judy Robinson. We had to have commitment from a school beforehand and be able to show it on the grant proposal, so they were very instrumental," Scalf said.
   As a requirement to fulfill the grant, Project Boomerang must help 75 different students each academic year. Scalf said the program is divided into two terms, fall and spring. "We have 35 kids this fall, and in the spring we hope to have 45 kids," Scalf said.
   Project Boomerang participants meet from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and focus on a variety of tasks, including tutoring, behavior management, music and art therapy, and violence prevention. Students also receive a snack during the program.
   Scalf leads the program with two assistants and eight certified teachers at the school who work for an hour a day during the program.
   "I have a lead assistant with a master's degree in criminal justice, Tiffany Rowland. She is assisting me as far as we do social skills building, violence prevention courses, and behavior modification," Scalf said. Rowland and Scalf also perform two visits during the school year to homes of students in the program.
   Charlotte Jenkins, Hunter's school nurse, acts as the youth service assistant caring for the students' physical needs. A music therapist, Nancy Nornhold, works with students two days a week. Scalf said the program wouldn't offer art therapy until January, when she hopes Yvonne Buford will become part of the after-school curriculum.
   "Kids come to the program by referral. A teacher may refer them; a guidance counselor may refer them, assistant principal or principal, or it may be an outside source such as someone from the Health Department, or the Department of Children's Services," Scalf said.
   Students also must meet certain referral criteria, including test scores that are below the 40th percentile. "These kids may come to the program through a range of different needs. They may be latchkey kids or have behavior management issues," Scalf said.
   So far, the program has been extremely successful, according to Scalf, and student test scores have already improved. "We have seen a difference in grades and in children already. We have had parents who said they would be spokespersons for the program because they've seen a difference in their children socially and academically," Scalf said.
   A representative from the University of Tennessee's Agriculture Extension Office also visits students twice a week to promote health and nutrition awareness. Students also learn journal-keeping skills and scrapbook-making skills.
   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".