Young children in one of the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Medford will get a leg up on their school careers, thanks to a $75,000 grant given to Jackson Elementary School.
The school is one of nine statewide to be awarded the P-3 (pre-natal through third grade) Alignment Implementation Grant through the Oregon Community Foundation.
It will fund programs and activities for families to help their young children become socially and academically ready for school.
Curt Burrill, a member of the Southern Oregon Leadership Council, presented the award to the Medford School District at a School Board meeting Monday evening.
Amy Cuddy, OCF senior program officer for Southern Oregon, said the foundation received 28 "excellent" completed applications for the grant.
"Jackson was chosen for two reasons," she said. "One, it's an area of high need ... and two, it has assembled an incredible group of partners and generated a lot of enthusiasm within the community."
If the school's programs prove to be effective, it will be eligible to apply for additional $75,000 grants in the second and third year for a total of $225,000, Cuddy said.
Jackson Elementary has partnered with the Family Nurturing Center, Kids Unlimited, OnTrack Inc. and the Southern Oregon Education Service District to provide support and resources to families of young children, specifically those who aren't attending a formal preschool, said Kelly Soter, principal of Jackson Elementary.
"We all have our own niche and expertise," she said. "The programs they already have in place complement the work we're doing here."
Jackson historically has had the highest poverty rate of any school in Southern Oregon.
Currently, 94 percent of the school's student population qualifies for free or reduced lunches, nearly 20 percent are homeless and 35 percent are English language learners, Soter said.
The school also is located in a crime-prone part of west Medford. Although its attendance area is less than one square mile, one in five child neglect cases in 2013 occurred in that area, as well as one in five rapes, one in five incidents of public intoxication, one in five acts of disorderly conduct and one in five juvenile runaway cases, Soter said.
"We have this situation where we have high poverty, high need and a lack of stability and resources in a really challenging neighborhood," she said. "On top of that we have a large population of families whose children don't attend early childhood learning programs ... so children begin kindergarten drastically behind their peers. They are playing a game of catch-up before they've even begun."
Last year, Jackson received a $5,000 grant from OCF to come up with an action plan, and this year, the $75,000 will allow the school to implement that plan. It includes a community needs assessment followed by home visits, professional training sessions for child-care providers and family engagement opportunities, such as weekly story times, parent support groups, family nights and "any kind of activity we can use to draw kids and families into the school," Soter said.
The purpose of the professional training sessions will be to encourage thinking and learning at home and to teach child-care providers to recognize traumatic stress factors in a child's life and how to incorporate math and language principles into everyday life.
Soter also has designated some of the funding to purchase books and supplies for children to take home and to hire a coordinator who will oversee the program and help to connect families with the partner organizations.
"The ultimate outcome of the (P-3 Initiative) is to improve learning outcomes for children by the third grade," she said.
The Family Nurturing Center currently offers a preschool program to 14 students twice a week at Jackson Elementary. This program is funded by the OCF's Walker Fund and the Carpenter Foundation, as well as Title I funding.
Most brain development occurs between birth and 5 years old, explained Mary-Curtis Gramley, executive director of the Family Nurturing Center.
"If we don't focus on these earlier ages, we are missing a prime opportunity to lay the foundation for educational success," she said.
The center's preschool programs focus on encouraging language and literacy development within the framework of play, so children "are ready to thrive when they walk in the door as kindergartners," she added.