Federal, state officials visit Pine Haven Elementary School

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published September 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 25, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Charity Thompson, 9, reads to Kathy Spangler, vice president of U.S. Programs for Save the Children, a child-literacy and health-promotion nonprofit organization.

BAUXITE — Charity Thompson, a student at Pine Haven Elementary School in Bauxite, got some additional help with her reading on Monday afternoon.

The 9-year-old is part of the Save the Children literacy class that meets after school. That afternoon she was reading, not with her usual instructor, but with Kathy Spangler, vice president of U.S. Programs for Save the Children, and the lesson was under the watchful eyes of federal and state officials.

The after-school program for around 15 children was visited by Libby Doggett, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education for policy and early learning, who was in Arkansas for a Little Rock meeting with educational service suppliers, then came to the Bauxite School District to see one of 11 Save the Children

Programs in the state.

“You are doing a lot right in Arkansas,” she told teachers and others gathered in the gym at Pine Haven after spending some time in the Save the Children classroom. “You have invested early to help children be better prepared when they enter kindergarten, and you are seeing some dividends. Arkansas has some cutting-edge preschool programs.”

Doggett said President Barack Obama values the nation’s investment in reading programs for preschool and elementary-school-age children.

“We want to double the number of children in programs like this, and support for such a step is growing,” she said.

She said literacy programs for elementary-school students like the one at Pine Haven Elementary play a major role in student success in later years.

Save the Children, a nonprofit organization that offers literacy and health programs for preschool and school-age children across the nation, operates 11 sites in eight Arkansas counties. Spangler said that the children enrolled in the Save the Children programs in the state read an average of 53 books during the school year, and that more than 69 percent of the children made “significant improvement” in their reading last year.

“The literacy improvement among program participants last year was equal to an additional five months of schooling,” she said.

The after-school literacy and health-awareness program at Pine Haven is a partnership with the Bauxite School District.

“We provide the materials and train the staff in the program,” said Lauren Faehl, deputy director of programs for Arkansas. “We have one district program coordinator on staff, and the others working with the children are teachers’ aides on the school staff during the day.

The visitors to the school included Arkansas Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell, who praised the Save the Children program for both preschool and school-age children and pointed out Bauxite School District Superintendent Jerrod Williams.

“He looks for opportunities to help children and families in the community, and so this partnership works well here,” Kimbrell said. “I am a huge fan of early-childhood [literacy programs]. These help children get to school prepared for success.”

After the time in the classroom, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel took the opportunity to present Kimbrell a check for $100,000 to be used in developmental programs like Save the Children. McDaniel said the funds came from Arkansas’ settlement from a suit against a national drug company.

Also addressing the gathering was state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, who serves on the state Senate’s Children and Youth Committee.

“Republicans are not known for their support of early-childhood education, but I’m a father,” he said.

Hutchinson said he has worked closely with the attorney general to garner support for programs in the state like Save the Children.

“We are glad to have them here,” Hutchinson said. “Some children need extra time, and extra focus, away from the distractions in the school day, to succeed. If we don’t reach kids now and give them the opportunities we give our own kids, we will pay the price somewhere down the road.”

After the meeting, Superintendent Williams said a new school is on the drawing board for Pine Haven. The new main building would be at the site of the current school and connect with the existing facilities.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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