MACON — Two of Macon’s poorest neighborhoods could see a major boost following a grant announced Monday by the United States Department of Education. Macon is one of only 15 communities in the nation, and the only one in the Southeast, to receive a $500,000 planning grant from the department’s Promise Neighborhoods program. In addition, the Peyton Anderson Foundation will contribute $150,000 to the effort as part of the local matching requirement. Mercer University, which will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant, has partnered with 35 local institutions to develop a plan to improve local student achievement in the Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods, focusing on the four school districts in those neighborhoods: Ingram-Pye and Hartley elementary schools, Ballard Hudson Middle School and Southwest High School.
The partners in the group include the City of Macon, Bibb County, Bibb County Schools, the Macon Housing Authority, the Peyton Anderson Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Central Georgia Technical College, as well as nonprofits, churches and organizations providing support within those neighborhoods. The planning grant process began with the support of Macon Mayor Robert Reichert two years ago, and County Commission Chair Sam F. Hart Sr. currently serves as chair of the grant advisory board. The goal is to close gaps in services and monitoring, from prenatal care to career placement after college, said Dr. Peter Brown, co-lead investigator on the project and professor of philosophy and director of Mercer’s Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships.
“This will be a birth to career program,” Dr. Brown said. “It will be an intensive, all-out commitment to the success of the students in these targeted neighborhoods. It will be coordinated, focused and measured for maximum impact.”
Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, deputy superintendent of School Improvement and Redesign at the Bibb County School System, applauded the effort as well. “As a school district, we feel fortunate to have strong community partners that care so deeply about our students and their families,” she said. “The opportunities that the Promise Neighborhoods grant provides align perfectly with the work we will be doing as a district to support each child to build strength of character and to be college ready. With the support of the planning grant, we can further strengthen partnerships that will ensure success for all children in the Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods.”
Added Hart: “This grant is a wonderful Christmas present to the Macon and Bibb County community. It will allow our community to work strategically and with a keen focus to improving conditions in our neighborhoods.”
Reichert applauded the effort as well: “Congratulations to Dr. Peter Brown and Dr. Mary Alice Morgan at Mercer and the numerous partners who contributed time, effort and experience to pull together a winning application,” Reichert said. “Our charge now is to make the best use of this planning grant and put together a sustainable effort to help at-risk children and youth.”
The planning process includes the creation a comprehensive data picture of the students within the school districts, development of ways to track that data and the identification of programs already in place to help families in those neighborhoods, as well as the creation of any programs necessary to fill gaps. The planning grant will include an application for an implementation grant next year, and with that, the creation of a comprehensive solution to combating low student achievement that can be used throughout the county.
“The Promise Neighborhood initiative has been embraced by Mercer because it brings the expertise of many sectors of the university together in order to meet needs of our neighbors,” said Dr. Mary Alice Morgan co-lead investigator on the grant and Mercer’s senior vice provost for service-learning. “For instance, faculty and students from the Tift College of Education are eager to increase opportunities for early childhood education for the neighborhood’s youngest residents. Our computer science faculty and students want to get residents excited about becoming more computer literate and help bridge the digital divide.”
More than 200 organizations from 45 states, as well as American Samoa and Puerto Rico, applied for 2011 Promise Neighborhoods planning and implementation grants. In addition to the 15 planning grants, the Department of Education also announced the first five implementation grants in the history of the program. The implementation grant recipients will be awarded a first-year grant of up to $6 million, totaling up to $30 million across the life of the grant, which will support implementing plans to provide cradle-to-career services that improve the educational achievement and healthy development of children. The second round of planning grants will fund planning activities to transform 15 new communities – including Unionville and Tindall Heights – into Promise Neighborhoods.
“Promise Neighborhoods recognizes that children need to be surrounded by systems of support inside and outside of the classroom to help them be successful in school and beyond,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “The 20 grantees announced [Monday] are spread out across the country, reflecting a broader nationwide movement to revitalize struggling communities by providing better access to health care, social and safety services partnered by great schools.”
About the Promise Neighborhoods Program:
The Promise Neighborhoods program aims to address significant challenges faced by students and families living in high-poverty communities by providing resources to plan and implement a continuum of services from early learning to college and career. President Obama recently highlighted Promise Neighborhoods in the Creating Pathways to Opportunity report that describes steps the administration has taken to reverse the growing income gap and create opportunity for all Americans. The program is also at the center of the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which seeks to align federal housing, education, justice and health programs with the overarching goal of transforming neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods of opportunity. To learn more, visit: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/promiseneighborhoods/index.html.
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon — and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. www.mercer.edu
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