By Diane Glidewell
April 12-16 was designated as the Week of the Young Child, a time of special significance for the staff and children at Butts County's Rainbow Center for Preschool Learning. The Rainbow Center serves special needs three and four-year-year-olds in an inclusion program which also serves mainstream pre-kindergarten students in the only pre-kindergarten program operated by the Butts County School System.
Recently, Butts County received a large multi-year grant from United Way to prepare children ages 0-5 to be ready to enter school. Melissa Morris, Student Services Coordinator at the Rainbow Center, has an important role in facilitating the programs offered by this grant. Two parent educators are now based at the Rainbow Center and a parent resource room is being developed there for parents of young children.
The Rainbow Center staff is excited about expanding programs to serve the youngest population of Butts County, but the teachers are also focused on what their current students are learning and experiencing each day.
On Wednesday morning, April 13 Storyteller Mama Koku brought her high energy program to the eager young students at Rainbow Center and their parents and younger siblings who were able to participate. The program was totally interactive from the moment Mama Koku began to weave her magic with enticing vocabulary words, music, hanging masks, and tales of why things are the way they are.
"Open a book; jump in a story; be in a story; live in a story," said Mama Koku.
The children and their teachers became characters in "Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears," "The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar," "Bear Snores On," and "Good Night, Moon." Mama Koku ended the program with the reminder that all are connected, what one does affects everyone. So everyone joined hands to take a bow for everyone.
Wednesday afternoon brought another special event for Rainbow Center in a ribbon cutting for the newly landscaped garden at the Center's entrance. This event represented the culmination of several weeks of work both off-site and on-site by the 19 members of the 2009-2010 Management Development Program sponsored by the Georgia EMC. The group is comprised of employees of electric cooperatives throughout Georgia, Oglethorpe Power, and Georgia System Operations Corporation who are developing and expanding their management potential. The group met at the Georgia EMC training facility near Smarr.
One element of the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government course is a service learning project which the members of the class choose and work together to coordinate and complete. With all of the economic challenges facing education, the class decided to look to school systems in the area for a project and became award of the need at the Rainbow Center.
The Rainbow Center moved to its present location at the former North Mulberry Elementary School when North Mulberry ES moved to a new facility and became Stark Elementary in 2008. Formerly the building had housed Henderson Middle School, Henderson Junior High School, and (prior to the end of segregated schools) Henderson High School. The building is now also the home of Butts County's alternative school, North Mulberry Academy. The facility provides lots of room for the Rainbow Center, but the school budget had no room for landscaping improvements after providing a playground between the buildings and regular grounds maintenance.
Melissa Morris told representatives of the Management Development Program class how she would love to see improvement in the area near the school's entrance, the first thing visitors see and the view which greets students and staff as they arrive each morning. The area featured a dying tree and overgrown shrubs before the class went to work. Now it is an open garden with attractive shrubs and flowers, a picnic table and bench. It is pleasant to walk by and appropriate for an outdoor lesson on a pleasant day.
"We wanted a project which would provide a service," said Cheri Garing of the Management Development Program class. "But we also wanted something that would last,"
Completion of the project was possible because of the donations of services and materials by Oglethorpe Power Cooperation, Georgia System Operations Corporation, Georgia EMC, Central Georgia EMC, Carroll EMC, Sawnee EMC, Irwin EMC, Jefferson Energy Cooperative, Diverse Power Incorporated, Georgia Right of Way, LaGrange Landscaping, McCorkle Nurseries, Hagemeyer, and Martha's Trophies and Plaque. Donations included tree and shrub removal, mulch, top soil, new plants, and safety equipment. Final touches included a sign for the school entrance and a plaque commemorating the project. The class raised funds for the table, bench, and other expenses.
Members of the Management Development Program 2009-10 class are Natasha Ashley, Carl Badgett, Todd Bennett, Nick Chapman, Laura Coakley, Glenn Cunningham, Adam Dalton, Corban Davies, Nick Davis, Cheri Garing, Homer Gentry, Wayne Gossage, Lori Hagemen, Stacy Heath, Sara Martin, Kim Sharpe, Lindsey Snelson, Vernon White and Eddie Wynn. They were all able to attend the ribbon cutting. They presented the school with a basket of garden-related toys, and the children of the school's pre-kindergarten class presented them with hand-made thank you cards and some big hugs.