By Kim Walter
Frederick County Public Schools is partnering with area businesses, civic and faith-based organizations to help meet the needs of division students.
The program, Bright Futures, will allow division teachers and administrators to express areas in which their students need help to an advisory board made of up community leaders. Once aware of a need, the board will contribute to fill it via monetary or physical donations.
Steve Edwards, coordinator of policy, records management and communications for the division, said he first heard about Bright Futures during a national conference.
He learned that the program began in 2010 in Joplin, Mo., as a way to improve graduation and attendance rates. Since its start, Bright Futures has been implemented in several surrounding school systems in Missouri and Kansas.
While it started small, Joplin's program has grown to encompass more than 300 partnerships between the school system and area organizations.
"It just kind of struck a chord with me," Edwards said about the Bright Futures presentation.
David Sovine, Frederick County Public Schools superintendent, also became interested in bringing the program to the division once learning more about it. In March, he invited local business leaders to talk about the possibility of starting Bright Futures.
"It was a very transparent conversation," Edwards said. "Dr. Sovine talked about our school system's many successes, but he also highlighted some areas of need."
Edwards said the division has realized the increased poverty rate in that over the last five years, the number of students approved for free or reduced lunches has grown from 24 percent to 33 percent.
He added that the division has noticed a rise in the number of homeless students, and the number of families under stress.
"We do have programs to help with things like this, but some of these issues are too big for the school system to handle on its own," Edwards said. "When kids don't have basic things, like food, clothing or materials, it can be a hindrance to their education."
Edwards said a number of area agencies already work with the school system to help students in need, but he said he feels Bright Futures can turn the community support into "something even bigger and better."
While the program would certainly help students who need materials or physical donations, the focus isn't just on them, Edwards noted.
Local businesses and organizations can also help by providing guest speakers, mentors, volunteers, internships and more.
"This isn't just about the neediest kids," Edwards said. "And it's not just about money. It's about sharing time, talents and treasures."
"The opportunities are endless."
About a dozen other school divisions in the Midwest are using Bright Futures, but Frederick County Public Schools would be the first in the state and outside of that region to try it. Edwards said the program's staff is very interested to see how it will work in a long distance situation.
In fact, Bright Futures USA has waived the affiliate fee for the division.
"They've never reached this far out, and I think they see us as a community that is well positioned for this to be a very successful program," Edwards said. "If it works for us, which I believe it will, Bright Futures could easily springboard to other surrounding communities."
Patrick Barker, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission, will serve as a co-chairman of the program's advisory board.
Currently, Barker is focused on finalizing the affiliate agreement with Bright Futures so that he can start reaching out to community leaders.
"Once we can get that approved, we'll be able to have a real blueprint to guide us forward," he said. "They've been able to kind of streamline the process, so that will help, but our community and our students' needs are unique."
Barker said he feels the community already has a solid foundation of working partnerships with the division, which can only help in the beginning phases of the program, he said. Following affiliate approval, Barker said he hopes to get the board and program up and running by late fall or early winter.
"A lot of this will be listening and responding as quickly as possible in order to better our students," he said. "There's just a lot of positive energy connected to Bright Futures, and I can't wait to see it evolve in our community."
Edwards said Bright Futures would be a partnership program and remain independent from the school division.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com