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Two grants help Haywood students

Two grants help Haywood students

Haywood County Schools recently received two grants from Dogwood Health Trust. One will benefit students at the Haywood Community Learning Center, and another will help fund mental health support services in elementary and middle grades. 

“I know this will be an area that is much needed and much appreciated,” said Chairman Chuck Francis of the grant opportunities.

Last year the Haywood Community Learning Center graduated its largest class ever, with 65 students receiving a high school diploma.

“We’re proud to report that over half of those have stable and secure jobs,” said D.J. Kerby, director of HCLC.

Of those graduates, 16% are employed in the trades industry and 16% are currently attending community college or have already completed certifications for CNA or mechanics.

HCLC recently received $175,000 from Dogwood Health Trust to support its work serving students who weren’t successful in a traditional school environment and are in drop-out status.

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“This grant will help us to provide a safe and supportive environment for students, help to individualize student plans and help to provide wraparound and transitional services for post-secondary success,” said Kerby.

Kerby plans to use the grant money to incorporate professional development for staff in social emotional learning and working with children of trauma. It will also go toward incorporating social emotional learning and soft skills building for students, updating technology for academic programs, increasing student transportation opportunities, enrichment opportunities and student physical and mental health services. Additionally, the grant will be able to cover some costs for workforce certifications from Haywood Community College such as CNA, forestry, mechanics and other construction certifications.

“We are excited for this new endeavor and the possibilities that it can bring, but I want to express my sincere appreciation to the board,” Kerby said during the Nov. 20 meeting. “Our efforts to broaden these opportunities for these students would not be possible without your support and the belief you have in the power of our program, so thank you.”

The second grant from Dogwood Health Trust is in the amount of $375,000 and will go toward funding counseling student liaisons in middle and elementary grades.

“After COVID, our elementary schools were very concerned about students and the lack of mental health support at that time,” said Assistant Superintendent Jill Barker. “One thing they wanted was a counseling assistant.”

Elementary principals in the district asked for mental health support at their schools, and HCS was able to pay for counseling assistants through ESSR funds — COVID relief money.

“That has proved to be a position that they want to hold on to for dear life,” said Barker.

With COVID relief funds ending over the course of the coming year, the school system applied for the Dogwood Health Trust grant to help cover the cost of those positions for an 18-month period, and hopefully expand them into the middle schools.

The counseling assistants meet with students on an individual basis prior to or during the school day.

“They check in with them, they eat breakfast with them, ‘how was your evening? Did you get your homework done? Why don’t you sit with me for a little while before you go into school,’” said Barker. “If they’re having a rough day or just need someone to talk to, they can go pull them out of class.”

In addition to one-on-one meetings, the counselors teach classes to groups of students. Administration compared the position to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

“The schools have loved it, just ask your elementary principals,” Barker said.

Administration is hopeful that the program will benefit middle schools in the same manner.

“[The counselors] can meet with kids that maybe are just having a hard time that morning, maybe having a hard time repeatedly, they can touch base with them when they get to school, they can have a regular meeting with them,” said Canton Middle School Principal Casey Kruk. “It may be just something academically, socially and emotionally, could be anything going on in their life where they just need an extra point of contact, and this is something that can be a regular person in their lives and support those students. So, we think this will be an amazing thing to have in our schools.” 

The school system is still waiting on guidance for exactly how the money can be used to build out the program.

“This will be a wonderful addition to our schools,” said Kruk. “Our elementary principals have loved it so far and they beg, ‘please don’t get rid of this.’ We were lucky to get that grant.”

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