Cuts to change dynamics of family literacy program

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EDGEFIELD, S.C. --- A family literacy program in Edgefield County that many say has changed their lives is in jeopardy of losing needed federal money next year.

Jasmine Boyd, of Johnston, and her son, Jae'Von Walker, 1, read a book together as Fanista Nicholson prepares to read with her son, LaTrez, 2, at the Johnston Learning Center. The Even Start program offers co-education, where children and their parents come together to learn. The loss of a key federal grant could mean the program's budget will be cut in half.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jasmine Boyd, of Johnston, and her son, Jae'Von Walker, 1, read a book together as Fanista Nicholson prepares to read with her son, LaTrez, 2, at the Johnston Learning Center. The Even Start program offers co-education, where children and their parents come together to learn. The loss of a key federal grant could mean the program's budget will be cut in half.

The Edgefield Even Start Family Literacy Program operates on $210,000 a year, said Lena Baker, the program's director. An eight-year, $90,000 federal grant that has allowed the center to offer child care services won't be reinstated next year, Mrs. Baker said.

Even with $117,000 in state funding remaining, Mrs. Baker said services will have to be cut in half by next summer.

"What would happen is we would probably have to eliminate one of our two sites, and we would probably have to cut staff in half," Mrs. Baker said.

The program focuses on adult literacy, with Even Start students undergoing home visits once a month and meeting three times a week for classes. While parents are in class, children as young as six weeks are also in classes.

"It's about improving the quality of life for families that are high risk for failure," Mrs. Baker said. "We don't want to serve the parent or children in isolation."

Veronica Phillips, an Even Start student who dropped out of high school in ninth grade, says she hates to see the program lose funding.

"I couldn't set a future for myself because I didn't know what I wanted to do," she said.

"Now I'm getting my GED, and I want to continue to go to school, go to college and get in the nursing field."

With money decreasing for Even Start, so-called extras, such as transportation for students, also will end. The staff also will be reduced from four full-time and one part-time worker to two full-time workers, meaning fewer families will be served.

"We try to make sure that parents are aware that this is a group project, this is about the Even Start family," Mrs. Baker said.

"We're very open with our budget situations, and we just told them this year that we are facing the expiration.

"We're doing everything in our power to look for additional grants, but still focus on the goals for this year and even work harder to achieve their goals."

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT IT OFFERS


The program operates year-round, four days a week, and offers GED preparation, parent/health education, early childhood education, personal visits, and literacy-based parent-child activities. Additional services available to families include on-site child care, the cost of transportation and meals.

Source: Edgefield County schools


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