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Project Reach
Offers Outstretched Hand To Community


When teachers at Barnett Shoals Elementary School in Athens, Georgia, recognized the need for more frequent and meaningful dialogue with the parents of their students, they decided to take the conversation directly to the parents in the form of "Project Reach."

A family game night, organized by Project Reach, generates good will and smiles among Barnett Shoals Elementary's students and their parents.
"We decided to meet in a 'neutral' location within the school community to present a new approach to talking with parents," explains Connell McCormack, a technology and EIP (Early Intervention Program) teacher at the school. "We wanted to instill the idea that we were coming to them and for them in order to share information that would benefit both parent and student. We wanted to listen to what they had to say at the same time."

Project Reach consists of meetings between school personnel and parents held outside of school. One of its goals is to overcome any negative experiences that parents may have had throughout their own education so they will view the school as a "friendly environment." The location of the initial meeting, a church, was chosen because several staff members belonged to it, and it was within a zone in which many of the most distant parents lived. The meeting featured dinner and door prizes as well as an informational session.

Although attendance at the first meetings wasn't what they had hoped for, the coordinators of the program remained positive. After a few poorly attended events, Project Reach hit its stride with evening gatherings that included performances by the school's step team and programs about statewide testing. At one meeting held in a centrally-located community center, so many parents and students came that seating was in short supply.

Performances from groups like the school's step team increase attendance as well as entertain.
"Not only did parents show up, but they were very thankful that we were providing them with the information that they needed," observed McCormack. "We have had good turnout in our events this year and see that parents understand that we want to work together for the betterment of their children. We have also seen all parents becoming more comfortable and engaged in fellowship with staff and other parents."

This year, McCormack and other organizers of Project Reach combined forces with the school's PTO to hold joint meetings. Every other PTO meeting was held at the community center in conjunction with Project Reach. McCormack believes the program has become even more vital as the district has undertaken a massive redistricting process that will change 50 to 60 percent of the schools' populations.

"The most important thing is to have all parties -- school, parents and community -- involved from the start," he reported. "We initiated this as a school trying reaching out to the parents and community, instead of bringing in members of all parties from the beginning. I think we could have been more successful and shared the workload by including all stakeholders in the planning."

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