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story.lead_photo.caption Jasmine Jones (from left), Shelby Bartram and Luz Carpio, all eighth-graders in the Environmental and Spatial Technologies Initiative at Central Junior High School, collect household items Wednesday for a family in the Central Junior High School Thrift Store at the school in Springdale. The household items are distributed to families in need with students at the school. This is the first semester for operation of the store that was created through the Student Directed Learning program a the school. - Photo by David Gottschalk

More school districts in Northwest Arkansas are joining a network that coordinates the efforts of schools, businesses and community members in meeting the needs of children.

Bright Futures USA added 11 school districts in Northwest Arkansas in three years to its network of schools in six states: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia.


Bright Futures affiliates in Northwest Arkansas

• Bentonville

• Berryville

• Decatur

• Deer-Mount Judea

• Gravette

• Greenland

• Lincoln

• Pea Ridge

• Prairie Grove

• Siloam Springs

• Springdale

Source: Bright Futures USA, Ralph Nesson

Bright Futures USA is a nonprofit organization based in Joplin, Mo., that developed a way for school districts to invite the community to help take care of low-income children and to pursue other ideas to help their students learn, said Ralph Nesson, Arkansas regional coordinator for Bright Futures USA.

Siloam Springs and Decatur became affiliates in November, Nesson said. The Deer-Mount Judea School Board in Newton County approved an affiliation agreement in January. The Gravette School Board voted in favor of a similar agreement April 18.

Pea Ridge School District established the first Northwest Arkansas affiliate in 2013.

In Benton, Carroll, Newton and Washington counties, where all 11 affiliates are located, 45,680 of the 87,626 children attending public schools are considered low-income because they qualify for free or reduced-price meals, according to information from the Arkansas Department of Education.

Children who are low-income tend to do less well in school, are absent more and have lower graduation rates than their peers from higher income families, Nesson said.

"Are we doing enough about it? No, we're not," Nesson said. "Bright Futures seems a really good approach to doing more to help low-income kids learn."

Siloam Springs is just getting started, said Grace Davis, director of teacher quality and community relations for the school district. A Bright Futures Siloam Springs Facebook page is up, but the official beginning will coincide with a community breakfast beginning at 7:30 a.m. Friday at Siloam Springs Middle School.

Bright Futures provides a structure and support, but how it grows and evolves depends on the community, Davis said. The effort is guided by an advisory board of leaders from the school district and community.

The early days of Bright Futures Siloam Springs will focus on organizing a rapid response system, which includes posting specific needs on the Facebook page to solicit help from the community, Davis said.

Davis liked the ability to meet specific needs for all ages of students, such as providing shoes for a third grader, she said. A community member can purchase the needed pair of shoes, bring them to school and a child in that school is wearing that pair of shoes.

"It's an innovative approach where adults in the community surround their children and say, 'We are going to take care of you,'" Davis said.

Each school district pays a one-time affiliation fee of $2,500 to join Bright Futures, Nesson said. The fee pays for services from Bright Futures, including ongoing support, training and technical assistance with setting up the Facebook page with colors and logos that identify the Bright Futures brand.

Nesson stays in touch with Bright Futures coordinators and superintendents from all the Northwest Arkansas school districts, he said.

Gravette School District will assemble an advisory board that will meet June 6 and have a kickoff breakfast Sept. 9, said Superintendent Richard Page. The district is recruiting volunteers.

More than half of Gravette students come from low-income families, Page said.

"It's to help our students that have needs, whether it be needing meals, food, clothing," Page said.

Springdale School District began a pilot of Bright Futures with Central Junior High, starting with posting a Bright Futures Springdale Facebook page in September. Community members met for the official kickoff breakfast in February.

More Springdale schools want to implement Bright Futures, including J.O. Kelly Middle School, Springdale High School, Sonora Middle School, Helen Tyson Middle School and Walker Elementary School, Griep said.

For Central Junior High, Bright Futures is an umbrella for how the school helps families, Principal Paul Griep said. That effort includes the Facebook page for disseminating information, such as when families need groceries or clothing.

A mentoring program is due to start in August, Griep said.

Another way the school helps families is through a school "store" stocked with personal hygiene items, such as soap, and household products, such as diapers, Griep said. When families have needs, school officials place an order, using an identification number for the family. Students who work in the store as part of a class that focuses on solving community problems fill the order for the family to pick up later.

Griep meets with the families when they come to pick up the package. He makes sure to talk with parents who might not otherwise come to the school about how their child is doing and what programs are available for that child, he said.

"We'll help you but let's ultimately help your kid," he said.

NW News on 04/24/2016

Print Headline: Bright Futures network grows in Northwest Arkansas

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