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Community center enriches lives
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After spending hours in school, around 50 students still come running into the Washington Street Community Center for classes every afternoon.

The 14-year-old School Street facility has long been known for its after-school tutoring programs, but over the years it has added classes for arts, crafts, culture, drama and recreation to become what Executive Director Bea Jackson calls an enrichment center.

"We are truly becoming well-versed in all areas. Kids learn in a variety of ways, not just from books or homework, but through art classes and monthly cultural lessons," Jackson said.

The center was the only non-school site chosen by the Newton County School System as a partner in the 21st Century grant program. The grant is designed to help schools set up after-school programs.

Jackson said her center has long sought coordination with the school system. It allows for alignment of curriculum between the center and the schools. The center has recruited two school teachers to serve as math coaches as it strives to prepare students for the Criterion Referenced Competency Test.

The center received its first 21st Century grant last school year. Its 21st Century students had an 87 percent CRCT pass rate the first time they took the test. Jackson said the students also had improved grades, attendance and classroom participation.

"The grant gave us a road map of where these kids need to be, because the ultimate end is how well they fare on the CRCT," Jackson said, noting that the grant was renewed this year. "We’re expecting to have an even better year the second time around."

The school system received a $372,495 renewal grant this year, and each grant participant is eligible to receive $1,000 per child per year. More than 200 students participate countywide at Porterdale Elementary, Middle Ridge Elementary and Liberty Middle schools and the Washington Street center.

Jackson said her center has about 40 students, kindergarten through eighth grade, in the grant, who learn alongside other children who attend the center but didn’t qualify for the grant.

"It’s a way of mainstreaming. The kids can learn from each other," she said, noting that she has a waiting list of 30. "The kids are happy here and their work gives them a sense of self worth. We have volunteers here daily spending times with these kids."

Mollie Melvin, from The Learning Center, teaches an early reading program. Freda Reed, from Newton County Senior Services, helped the students form a business plan to run a cupcake shop. General Mills sponsors a monthly cultural class, where children learn about other countries. The Newton County Arts Association provides drama classes on Fridays.

"We can partner with the whole community. We welcome any organization with similar aims," Jackson said. "We don’t want to reinvent the wheel; we want to work with these groups."