School board approves Bright Futures program

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Next Tuesday, a group of Cassville community members will come together to discuss how to meet student needs. Business owners, members of local civic organizations, individuals from the faith community and parents will come together to discuss the Bright Futures program.

"The program ties the community together to meet the needs of kids in the community within 24 hours," said Melanie Stringer, Cassville Middle School assistant principal and Bright Futures coordinator.

"The meeting on March 6 will give some of our community members an opportunity to come in and visit with us and learn more about Bright Futures," said Stringer. "We also want these community members to help us decide what Bright Futures will look like in our community.

"Our purpose is not to reinvent the wheel," said Stringer. "We have good service organizations in our community that are doing wonderful things. This will be more of an effort to coordinate what is offered to meet student needs."

Currently, Cassville's Bright Futures program, which is modeled after the program developed by the Joplin School District, is in the very basic planning stage, said Stringer.

"I can tell you that there will be a contact person in each building at the school," said Stringer. "Those individuals will be responsible for relaying needs to the program to ensure our primary goal of meeting needs within 24 hours.

"Other districts are finding that they are able to meet most needs in much less time," said Stringer.

Over the last few months, Stringer has been working with Jill LeCompte, director of instructional services, to lay the groundwork for the local Bright Futures program. LeCompte will serve as Stringer's co-coordinator for the program.

On Feb. 16, the Cassville R-4 School Board voted to approve the formation of the Cassville Bright Futures program. Although no funds have been earmarked for the effort, a middle school classroom that has been used for storage is being cleaned out to offer space for the program.

In the future, Cassville's Bright Futures program will likely offer a food pantry and personal needs pantry inside the middle school. The personal needs pantry will house clothing and other personal need items.

"We have so much capacity of support for the school district, but we are challenged by our rural area," said Superintendent Richard Asbill. "It became very clear through the tragedy in Joplin that the Bright Futures program was the answer to make sure students' needs are taken care of.

"We can say that the school district is the center of the community, but in Joplin, it became evident that the school is the piece that must get rolling again to inspire normalcy," said Asbill.

The Bright Futures program was developed by the Joplin School District before the tornado devastated the community in May of 2011. With the assistance of social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, Joplin administrators used the Bright Futures program to help students and families after the tragic event.

School districts that decide to develop Bright Futures programs for their communities must adhere to a set of guidelines when developing the local program.

"If you say you are interested in starting a Bright Futures program, they want you to mean it and put the effort in to put a successful program in place," said Asbill. "We have been working to put the networks of support in place to make our program successful."

When beginning a Bright Futures program, school districts are required to hold an advisory meeting. Later, the district will need to host a larger meeting to present the program to the entire community.

Bright Futures programs in other communities have provided students with food, clothing, shoes and other items to meet basic needs. The program also gives community members an opportunity to volunteer to mentor students.

"Some of our kids just need positive interaction with members of the community," said Stringer. "Someone could volunteer to just have lunch with a student."

In Joplin, the program allowed the district to connect students with businesses and organizations that could provide medical equipment and meet other specific needs after the tornado.

"We want to help both families and children in need," said Asbill. "We might have a family that needs food for the weekend. The idea is that when we help families succeed the children are going to be successful."

The Bright Futures program will also work as a sounding board for teachers, parents and students. In addition to providing items, community members will be needed to share information on opportunities and services available in the community.

"The program empowers everyone to have a voice but directs specific needs to certain people," said Asbill. "During his presentation during the Cassville Chamber Banquet, Dr. CJ Huff (Joplin superintendent) said that Bright Futures coordinates time, talent and treasurers.

"We believe this is our best network to coordinate the time, talent and treasures offered in our community to assist us in making our students more successful," said Asbill.

Through the program, students will also be asked to give back to the local community by taking part in clean-up activities, mentoring and tutoring younger students and participating in other community service projects.

"It will be good for our students to learn that they have time, treasures and talents to give back to the community as well," said Asbill.

"It's going to be exciting to watch it grow," said Stringer. "The program will teach the kids about paying it forward. We want to teach them that everything is not all about us. It has to be about what we can do for others."

Joplin's Bright Futures program received the 2011 Magna Award Grand Prize from the National School Boards Association and American School Board Journal.

Since its inception, the program in Joplin has reduced the number of dropouts by 52 percent and increased the graduation rate by 7 percent. Attendance improved to a five year high at 95.3 percent.

Over 260 businesses and organizations participate in the Joplin program, and over 650 individuals volunteer to offer mentoring, tutoring and other services through the program.

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