Latexo ISD initiates after-school program
Houston County Courier
By Lynda Jones
About 20 individuals attended an informational meeting at Latexo Elementary School Thursday, Aug. 18 to learn about a grant program the school district recently obtained, and about a grant the school district is seeking. First on the agenda was the 21st Century Community Learning Center (ACE) grant that is enabling the Latexo ISD to offer an after-school program beginning Tuesday, Sept. 6. It will run throughout the school year and into next summer, said Superintendent Don Elsom. Elsom explained the grant provides the Latexo ISD with about $1.4 million over a five-year period to fund the after-school program. Project Director Connie Baker explained that the program’s main focus is to expand academic enrichment opportunities for children and families. The programs will be free of charge to all participants, she explained. “Our goal is to not turn anybody away,” Baker said. Those attending the meeting were told the grant funds all materials and staff for the program. Free resources also will be used, and there are plans to partner with some businesses. For example, one business will provide planting supplies and send a master gardener to help students install plants around the school through a program that business already has in place. There also plans to partner with a 4-H group for the Green Team Curriculum, said Lori Dowell, high school site coordinator. The components of the program include homework help, academic support/enrichment, extracurricular activities, family support and college and workforce readiness. “We’re excited about it,” Baker and Dowell said. They plan to survey students and parents to determine what the program to offer. There are plans to offer karate, dance and arts/crafts at the elementary level. At the high school, journalism will be offered, including instructions on blogging and the students will produce the school newsletter. Also, an advanced math class, astrology, dance and drama instruction are possibilities. Voice lessons and guitar lessons may be offered. Another possibility is a babysitting class. Baker said the hospital already has a curriculum and offers a babysitting certificate to those who complete their course. If there’s enough interest, that class can be offered, she said. In addition to the program being free to participants, Baker and the campus site coordinators are working with athletic coaches and other extracurricular faculty to avoid conflicts with other activity schedules. For example, homework help will be available in the mornings at the high school to accommodate athletes who have practices after school. High school students will be offered help in learning how to complete job applications and resumes. After school, snacks will be provided and the district will run a school bus to take students home. Baker explained that the staff will include certified teachers for the academic component and volunteers. She suggested the area churches may have “Young at Heart” folks who want to volunteer their time helping with homework completion and other activities. Parents were assured anyone working as an employee or a volunteer will undergo a background check before they are allowed to work with students. There also is a family component to the program. Courses for parents of participating children and youth will be offered. Community service is another area to be addressed. High school students may serve as mentors or tutors for younger children. Program participants may perform a variety of community service activities in Latexo. The first week of the program, Sept. 6 – 9, interested persons are invited to visit and see first-hand how the program is set up. The hours that week will be 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Normally, the program will operate from 3:30 – 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. There will be extended hours, 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on short weeks. Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the program should call (936) 544-5664. The second part of the Aug. 18 meeting was conducted by Elsom. He explained the windstorm com munity safe room grant that the school board recently voted to pursue. Elsom said there has been a lot of confusion and some misinformation about the grant and the application process. He began with explaining that the community safe room windstorm grant is. He said it is *A grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency; *Administered by the State of Texas; *A facilities grant for counties and/or cities; *A grant to provide a safe room for citizens of a city or county in the event of a windstorm. He also explained what a community safe room grant isn’t. This grant is not *A grant for a gymnasium; *An automatic call for a bond issue; *A school district building only; *A totally free grant; *A Red Cross shelter in case of a disaster such as a hurricane. Elsom said the building has to be windstorm proof according to FEMA standards, and it must have 80 percent open floor space. Further, the grant will not be awarded until next summer, Elsom said, so it is not an automatic call for a bond issue and there is plenty of time for community members to discuss what type of building they want. He said it could be classrooms, a joint cafeteria for the two campuses or even an auditorium. The grant is a 75/25 grant, meaning the school district will be responsible for 25 percent of the funding. Elsom also explained the community will have priority use of the building in the event of a windstorm. While not intended as a Red Cross shelter in case of a hurricane, it could be used that way if the governor calls and tells the school district to open it up, Elsom said. What funding comes with the community safe room grant? Elsom explained that “*Funding is based on the population living or working within one-quarter of a mile from the location of the safe room. *The safe room grant provides for funding of 75 percent of the cost of the structure, plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling for a community safe room. *The costs for having the grant written for the district can be covered up to 75 percent by the grant. “We believe we may be able to get up to $1.2 million in funding for a community safe room,” Elsom said. What are the costs of the community safe room grant? According to Elsom, the district will be responsible for 25 percent of the total cost of the project, up to a $1.6 million project. In other words, the district would be required to come up with $400,000. Other costs are for paying grant writers and possibly architects/engineers to draw plans and certify them, Elsom explained. He also mentioned the possibility of a small grant to help pay the grant writers. Additionally, there is no cost to the city. Elsom added that the Latexo City Council already has approved partnering with the school district, as required by FEMA. Where does the money come from? Elsom said this is federal money that was budgeted by the government at the beginning of this year for this purpose. “Remember that all federal money is your money originally. It is paid to the federal government through your tax dollars,” Elsom said. Why is the school district attempting to get the grant? According to Elsom, “This grant could help the city and its residents by giving them a safe room that is windstorm rated to protect them in case of a tornado (up to approximately 11,400 square feet).” Additionally, he said, “It is a grant and could reduce the cost of whatever type of building it is decided that should be built.” Finally, “It is one of the few facility grant programs available and in this budget year every dollar is a blessing,” Elsom said. Elsom stated the school board has not decided to build any specific building or spent any money up to this point. He said further that the board has not obligated the district to any costs other than an hourly cost to the grant writers. “This relationship can be terminated at any time and 75 percent of the total can be paid for by the grant if it is received,” Elsom said. What misinformation is out there? Elsom said there is a misconception that the district is building a gymnasium. “No decision has been made as to the type or form of a building,” he reiterated. Another misconception Elsom said is a belief that the school is costing the federal government money. “This money is already budgeted and will be spent regardless of whether we get the grant or not, someone will,” Elsom stated. Also, he said there is a misconception that the district has already decided to have a bond election. “This has not been decided nor will it be until the final decision on the type of building we need to build is made,” Elsom said. Elsom closed his presentation with a description of what the district needs from the community. “We need concerned parents and community members (approximately 15) who would be willing to give up a few evenings during the next few months to determine how we could best serve the community if we receive funding for this grant,” Elsom said. This committee will make recommendations to the school board about what type of building the community wants. “It will take time to do this,” Elsom said. When all was said, one woman who admitted to be adamantly opposed to the idea when she arrived, changed her mind and volunteered to serve on the committee. Elsom had about half of the 15 he was seeking when everyone left for the evening.