Prince Edward project praised by Virginia School Board Association

Published 12:34 am Sunday, May 5, 2024

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Every year, the Virginia School Board Association recognizes projects across the state. Association members learn about what different districts are doing, going through submitted concepts to determine what deserves to be spotlighted as part of the group’s annual “Showcases for Success”. This year, two projects in Prince Edward County Schools made the list, which highlighted 43 districts out of the 132 operating in Virginia. 

For some school districts, the spotlight was on how they cut down on chronic absenteeism. Lunenburg County was recognized for its impressive efforts in that field, which we’ll cover here shortly. Other districts designed programs to teach life skills or how to prepare for life after college. And some, like Prince Edward, focused on the community. 

The Association chose to highlight the community supporting efforts at Prince Edward Elementary and Prince Edward Middle as part of this year’s list. Students from the two schools collected more than 1,000 pounds of canned goods this year, donating them to FACES Food Pantry. In addition, some of the middle school students spent hours volunteering at the pantry, helping to sort, package and weigh food to prepare it for distribution. 

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“I’m proud of the civic-mindedness of our students and their willingness to work to contribute to our community,” said Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson. 

A spotlight on the Express

Shifting gears to Prince Edward High, the Association recognized the efforts with what’s been labeled as “The Sandee Draper Express”. This is a coffee cart program, created by the late Sandee Draper, who served as the special education teacher and transition coordinator at the school. 

The cart allows students in the adaptive class to engage in a real-world job experience, promoting career readiness skills. The express cart currently operates once a month, managed by students in the adaptive setting with the support of the adaptive special education teacher and instructional assistants. All students in the adaptive program participate. Staff members receive the express cart order form before the scheduled delivery date. The cart includes hot coffee, different condiments, and a variety of snacks that staff can select, each costing $1. The proceeds collected from the sales are deposited into an account created to replenish the cart’s supplies.

Johnson said district officials were proud of the work the students continue to put in to make the program work. 

“We are very proud to honor the life of Ms. Draper in such a memorable way,” she added. 

Virginia School Board Association offers recognition 

No programs from Buckingham, Charlotte or Cumberland counties were included in this year’s “Showcases” list. The other one from this region, which drew some significant attention from Association members, several of which originally brought this to The Herald’s attention, came from Lunenburg County. 

So far this school year, chronic absences have gone from 30.1% to 13.63% in the district. It’s an impressive effort, the best by far within both Central and Southside Virginia, one that Superintendent Sharon Stanislas says comes through everyone working together. 

The success of the program can be attributed to the coordinated efforts of the Attendance Committee (consisting of the central office and building level administrators), school staff, students, and parents,” Stanislas said. 

So what triggered the changes for Lunenburg schools? District officials point to a number of projects, all instituted this year. That includes personalized outreach to families of students with attendance issues, not just warning of the problem, but encouraging them to allow the kids to stay after school. Lunenburg County has an after school attendance recovery program set up. 

Through that program, students have the opportunity to regain missed instructional days and seat hours. Did you miss the bus and got to school too late for a class? That’s ok. Stay after school and you can make up that time, getting instruction and missed assignments. 

Beyond that, Central High has put in place several monthly, rather than quarterly, incentives to encourage regular attendance. We’re not talking about extremely costly activities here. It’s stuff as simple as student vs. staff games and themed social events. 

“These initiatives have yielded significant results, with chronic absenteeism declining from 29% to 9.74% from last year to mid-year this year,” the Association report said. That’s 9.74% chronic absenteeism at the high school. 

To put that in perspective, 10% chronic absenteeism, that is, a student missing 10% or more of classes, is considered great. What the Association report praised is that Central High “has fostered a positive atmosphere where students are motivated to attend regularly, spurred by the prospect of engaging in the monthly incentives.”