On Track: Morgan System of Care making a difference in the lives of young African-American boys
By Kathryn Schiliro
Fall Jubilee photos by
15 of 17 students currently enrolled in the System of Care program were promoted to the next grade level. This translates to an 88.24 percent promotion rate, just shy of the SOC goal of 90 percent.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it sometimes takes a community to keep students in school and thriving.
Since its inception two years ago, the Morgan System of Care (SOC) has focused on improving the academic performance of fifth and sixth grade black males in the community.
“The System of Care is (about) creating a system where all the partners and organizations working with children in the community (are coordinated and collaborating),” Velde Hardy, System of Care administrator, said. “It’s about making sure children aren’t falling through the cracks.”
The SOC started in Oct. 2009 with the procurement of a three-year grant from the Governor’s Office of Children and Families. Based on results gleaned from a 2007 community assessment, the large number of black males in Morgan County CrossRoads school and within the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) was a growing concern, as was the potential for the development of gangs, Hardy said. The assessment showed that 60 percent of student at CrossRoads were black, 78 percent were male and 75 percent had cases with the DJJ.
The grant, which targeted a specific population – 30 to 40 black males in grades 5 and 6 with multiple disciplinary referrals in county schools – was aimed at improved their attendance rate, academic performance and CRCT scores, and decreasing the drop-out rate.
The belief that community partners could band together and take action led to the creation of the SOC, which unites students and parents with schools, local government and organizations, including the City of Madison, Boys & Girls Club, Department of Family and Children Services, the DJJ, Board of Education, Child & Adolescent Resource, P.C., Pathways Transitions Programs, Recreation Department, Morgan County Ministers Union, Children Ferst Foundation, Morgan County 4-H and many more, Hardy said.
To further their aim, two positions were created through SOC: Intense Care/Case Coordinator and Family Advocate. It is the job of Intense Care Coordinator Hscola Dempsey to “go out and make sure (all applicable) services are coordinated in a seamless fashion,” Hardy said, and to get families involved in their children’s education.
“Families are the lead partners,” Hardy said. “They’re at the table.”
Family Advocate Sylvia Milling, on the other hand, goes into the homes of these target students and works with the families.
“A lot of our parents are single moms,” Hardy said. “They’ve lost their voices or don’t know how to (speak out). They don’t come to conferences; they’re not engaged.”
Milling’s tasked with thinking like a parent so that she can connect the parent with the schools and organizations in an effort to aid the student. She attends parent-teacher conferences, for example, and will stop to ask the parent if he/she’s understanding what’s being said, according to Hardy.
“She teaches them how to ask questions and what questions to ask,” Hardy said.
She also helps parents determine whether the student would benefit from counseling.
Another SOC program, the Positive Action Program works through the elementary and middle schools’ counselors to identify students that would gain from group counseling. About 20 students are part of this group that meets twice a week to focus on improving school performance and exercising “positive action in every situation” including behavior, Hardy said.
The SOC has also taken to hosting Parent Cafes, which are chances for parents to come to the table with school system and community representatives to discuss relevant issues that are important to them. Past topics have included taking care of yourself as a parent, being a strong parent and building strong relationships with children. Parent Cafes are open not only to parents, but also foster parents, grandparents and anyone concerned about a student’s education.
“It’s about breaking down those walls,” Hardy said. “A lot of these people share the same concerns. They (other parents) may have some ideas that worked on their 14-year-old child that could work on mine.”
Other SOC initiatives include the Nurturing Skills for Families Program, the Botvin Life Skills Training Program, individual and group counseling, community-based mentoring, individualized tutoring, structured after-school activities and summer programs, and transportation services. The SOC helps families take advantage of these initiatives at little to no cost, depending on their financial status.
The SOC is going into its third year of of this three-year grant from the Governor’s Office of Children and Families, which will cease funding at the end of 2012. The SOC, according to Hardy, has a resource development team that is working on securing funding to continue operation of the organization. Hardy expects that a blending of funding from grants, support from local agencies and community buy-in will allow the SOC to continue its work beyond 2012.
“The expectation is that by the end of next year we’ll be self-sufficient and self-sustaining,” Hardy said. “We’ve found our niche; we’ve found a process that’s working. We want to continue at this level.”
The numbers support Hardy’s claim. For youth actively enrolled in SOC, excused absences decreased 60 percent between the end of the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, while unexcused absences decreased 31 percent. For the same period out-of-school suspensions decreased 25 percent and in-school suspensions decreased 55 percent.
Also at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, of the eight SOC students who took the CRCT 87.5 percent – that’s seven of the eight – passed the Mathematics and Language Arts portions of the CRCT. Further, of the 17 SOC students enrolled, 15 were promoted to the next grade level.
The SOC is planning on hosting events throughout the year to continue to get the word out about their services and to supplement their funding. This includes things like their Second Annual Fall Jubilee, held earlier this month, which brought together school and church choruses for a performance.
Proceeds from the jubilee brought in $880 for the SOC, while a car wash held the day before brought in $190, for a total of $1,070 in one weekend, Hardy told the Madison City Council at a meeting earlier this month.
An end-of-the-year celebration for the SOC is also tentatively slated for Friday, Dec. 2 from 6 to 7 p.m.; the site is yet to be determined.
For more information on the SOC, contact Velde Hardy, administrator, at email@example.com or call (706) 343-5813.
Staff writer Michael Prochaska contributed to this story.
Printed in the October 20, 2011 edition