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The Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club of Cairo-Grady County will soon receive federal coronavirus relief money for an education-based grant program. Club officials currently plan to use the funds, slightly over $100,000 distributed over 15 months, to hire teachers and invest in updated technology to help club members recover academic progress lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The award comes from $15 million in Governor’s Educational Emergency Relief (G.E.E.R.) funds originating from federal coronavirus relief and allocated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Georgia by Governor Brian Kemp early last month.
Director Stephen Francis and J.R.B.G.C. board chairwoman Amy Hagan will meet today to discuss grant particulars with Lee Wagner, chief professional officer of the center’s umbrella organization, the Marguerite Neel Williams Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Georgia. The organization submitted the necessary paperwork to the Georgia Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs last Friday, so the first funds could be received as early as next week, according to Wagner.
$321,090 will be evenly divided between the organization’s three units, J.R.B.G.C. and the Youth and Teen Centers in Thomasville, meaning that the Cairo club will have a total of $100,680 at its disposal after administrative fees are deducted. State funding was formulated based on attendance numbers as reported to the Georgia Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, he says.
The three officials explained that local plans for implementation will be the same across all sites but are still under development. “This is a first, and we’re still really going through this [brainstorming process],” Francis told The Messenger last Friday. “We’re working day and night to get this ball rolling.”
Current plans are to hire three to five certified teachers onto the Cairo club’s staff as mentors and tutors to enhance the club’s after school and summer programs.
One way both Hagan and Francis see academic remediation playing out is during “Power Hour,” a time to focus on homework when kids arrive at the club from school. During this hour, Francis says the club provides tutoring to help the children become “self-directed learners.”
Having certified teachers on staff, with a smaller student to teacher ratio than in the classroom, will help to target and combat subjects of academic weakness that existed both before and after the pandemic hit, they say.
In addition to Francis, who has served as unit director since January 2016, the Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club currently employs six youth development professionals: Zack Gibson, Janiyah Mills, Linda Norwood, Mackenzie Orange, Shaquisha Pope and Donell Washington.
“My staff are great staff,” Francis said, “but they are not certified teachers.”
“Getting certified teachers in here is going to change the game and make everything better,” he continued, “That more than anything else is going to assist our kids in reaching [our] mission.”
Additional grant requirements to promote socio-emotional learning among participants are already met through regular club activities: programs such as “Passport to Manhood,” “Smart Girls” and “Skills, Mastery and Resistance Training (S.M.A.R.T.) Moves” teach students healthy relationship and decision-making skills year-round, says Francis.
Since reopening the center’s doors in September 2020, the director has also seen an increased need for updated technology. The club owns Chromebook laptops and six working desktop computers, which Francis says prove inadequate for the roughly 70 kids in the center daily, much less the 130 members who will fill the building again once Francis lifts COVID-19 restrictions, which he anticipates should happen by the end of the grant program.
Hagan also anticipates J.R.B.G.C. investing in Microsoft Office software and color printers to help members complete school projects at the club.
The officials hope to begin purchasing these resources this summer. They also aim to have the new teachers onboarded by the time Grady County starts the 2021-2022 school year this September.
Applications for the teaching positions will be announced at the discretion of the Cairo-Grady County board of directors, according to Wagner.
The grant program runs from June 1 of this year to September 30, 2022. Over those 15 months, J.R.B.G.C. is responsible for reporting on the academic progress of at least 69 school-aged children, according to Wagner, and tracking their “learning loss recovery.”
The goal is for 65 percent of the children who started below grade level to be back on track by the program’s end, and for 35 percent of the participants who were on grade level to be closer to promotion, according to an agreement from the state alliance.
Based on its operating budget for 2021, the Cairo unit receives around 65 percent of its annual funding from local fundraisers like the “Diamond Affair” and personal donations. Local, state and federal grants make up about 35 percent of its annual funding. The addition of the G.E.E.R. funds increases the 2021 budget by more than 50 percent, Wagner says, but it does not lessen the need for local financial support.
“The Cairo-Grady County community does a great job providing for the Jackie Robinson club. We have to realize that these funds are specially earmarked for academic enhancement… [which] is just one of many needs that the club has,” he says.
J.R.B.G.C. board chairwoman Amy Hagan says the need for academic remediation after the pandemic has become evident with the large number of summer school participants in the Grady County school system this year.
“The biggest thing is that a lot of kids missed almost a year of school,” she says, referring to virtual students who were at home during the pandemic. “Just because it’s on the computer, doesn’t mean the kid is learning it.”
Hagan, who has been teaching for 18 years and currently works in the Cairo High School special education department as an inclusion teacher, says that building in extra academic enrichment into the club’s summer and after school programs, “gives these kids a chance to go back and master these skills that they didn’t have a chance to learn because of not having the help or resources they needed at home.”
Director Francis says that, in a nutshell, “the whole B.G.C. mission is to inspire the children to become productive citizens.”
“I want the community to know, like our mission statement says, that these funds are going to more enable us ‘to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens,’ and will help us to be more dedicated to promoting the development of our boys and girls, to help to improve their lives in these critical periods of growth,” Francis says.
The Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club of Cairo-Grady County opened by Holder Park in Cairo in December 2009. During the summer, it serves kids ages 6-18 in grades Kindergarten through twelfth grade on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Donations can be made to the club through checks payable to “Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club”; by making a pledge on their website, mnw-bgc.net; and through online applications CashApp and Venmo to JRBGC42.