By Greg Gelpi
Education is a responsibility of more than just the schools, Clayton County Board of Education member Ericka Davis said.
Davis is pushing for the school system and local organizations to take advantage of federal grant money given for tutoring and mentoring programs.
Jack Johnson runs Youth Advocacy Services Inc., an organization that tries to turn at-risk children around through education and character development.
Housed in Redemption Fellowship Church, Johnson said the program makes certain not to cross the line separating church and state in its efforts to save children.
"We try to target kids who are in imminent danger of coming into contact with the juvenile justice system," he said.
Many youths are in such danger because of character and educational deficiencies, Johnson said.
Youth Advocacy Services is approved by Clayton County Public Schools, he said, and receives many of its participants through referrals by the Clayton County Juvenile Court System and the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services.
The program provides classroom instruction in language arts, math and leadership as well as educational activities, Johnson said.
While educating the children, the program also keeps them off the street during the peak times for juvenile crime, he said. During the school year, the program is from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., and during the summer it's from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"Our system needs the community's help to ensure that our children succeed," Davis said. "Much like it takes a village to raise a child; it also takes village to educate a child. Individual tutoring and mentoring takes time, but to do a mass effort it will take more than personal involvement, it will also take funding."
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools-Mentoring Program grant is meant to improve student academic performance, relationships, dropout rates, juvenile delinquency and gang involvement by children, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It is available to faith-based groups and other community organizations.
"I think it's a great opportunity for our school system if people would take advantage of it," Davis said.
She said she receives many calls from those interested in offering tutoring and mentoring to county children, but lack the money to do so.
"They don't just belong to the parents," she said of children. "They don't just belong to the schools. They belong to the community."
Recalling an African proverb, Davis said, "The destruction of a nation begins in the home."
For a copy of the application for The Safe and Drug-Free Schools-Mentoring Program grant, visit http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/announcements/2004-2/052804f.html. Technical assistance with the grant process can be found at http://www.connectlive.com/events/mentoring/.