Task force discusses education

Published 5:18 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

WEST POINT — The Troup County Education Task Force met Thursday evening at the West Point Methodist Church to discuss efforts in West Point to help students succeed.

Offering input on what was being done in the way of after-school programs were Mayor Steve Tramell, West Point Youth Programs Director Monica Barber, Bill and Theresa Fannings, Jothaniel Zeigler, and the Rev. Nelson Furtado of West Point Methodist.

The Task Force was formed to marshal community support behind initiatives to contribute to the overall improvement of education in the county. An immediate goal is to help improve test scores.

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“That’s a topic we talk about a lot,” said Task Force Co-chair Rev. Charlton Askew.

Other members of the Task Force include Co-chair Dr. George Henry and Troup Board of Education members Kirk Hancock, Brandon Brooks and Becky Grubbs.

Henry said the Task Force is bringing the county to a practical place.

“It’s a heterogeneous undertaking,” he said. “It has people of all kinds of backgrounds and income levels,” he said.

Hancock is a retired businessman from the Atlanta area, who has been living in the LaGrange area for the past 20 years. Grubbs brings to the Task Force years of practical experience in having been a teacher at the elementary level. Brooks is in his third year on the Troup BOE. Bill and Theresa Fannings have tutored students for years.

The Fannings said they home-schooled their children for a time and then transitioned them into Troup County public schools.

“It was eye opening for them for the time,” said Mrs. Fannings. “Tutoring for Life has given kids something extra. A lot of young people, especially the ones we work with, need one-on-one intervention. They need to be free to learn outside the classroom. My focus is to teach the whole child. Many young people have issues. It takes a lot to raise a child these days.”

She found ways of improvising. Rather than trying to drill it into their heads that two times three equals six, she would include tangible items to get the point across. She would have two groups of three and get the children to understand that when both groups were combined three would be six of them. It was a simple, but effective, learning technique.

Zeigler said he’d worked with kids before and had found that simple techniques work well. He said it’s rewarding to see that look on their faces when they understand something.

Grubbs said that children can learn what numbers mean when they are in kindergarten.

“When they get to the first grade, what you do with numbers can be understood,” she said. “We need to go back to what works. Reading can become a passion once you break down words. We have done some tremendous things in the past, but we are now at 26 percent of grade level. That is criminal. It should be much better than that. We need outside things for some of the children. We should do what works and not keep putting band aids on things that aren’t working.”

Mrs. Fannings said that one of the best compliments she ever got was when a student she was working with asked her if she was going to make her think.

“Yes!” she told her. “That’s the idea.”

Hancock said everything can’t be fixed, but the education system can engage with the community in a better way.

“When people step forward and want to help, that’s good. We need to encourage more of that,” he said.

Monica Barber said what the community needs most is academic support.

“Parents could help their kids,” she said. “The big problem is that they didn’t learn it the way it’s being taught today. It’s different.”

Grubbs said this is exactly what she’s been talking about.

“The worst thing you can do is to kill the excitement of learning,” she said. “Once you do that it’s dead, and that’s so sad.”

Barber said that West Point offers summer programs and after-school programs during the regular school year.

“It’s a volunteer-based program, and kids come by word of mouth,” she said. “We usually have around 50 kids each year, and they range in age from kindergarten students to eighth graders. We tutor them and help them with their homework.”

Henry said he’s heard much discussion that there’s a need for more parental involvement.

“We hear this at almost all our meetings,” he said. “There’s frustration that more parents aren’t involved. It’s a great value to them to know what’s going on.”

Barber said that she was on good terms with schools and their principals.

“We’ve been focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education,” she said. “It would help to have better resources. It would be great to match what’s going on in the schools. Sometimes we can, and sometimes we can’t.”

Brooks said his daughter teaches at the elementary level in the Heard County system.

“I’ve asked her what do they do to keep their students reading at grade level,” he said. “She told me it was a matter of being equipped with an adequate tool box.”

Like tools, different instructional techniques work with different students.

“She might have 22 to 25 students, and they are all different,” Brooks said. “Different methods work with different students. I think we can do that. We need to equip our teachers with the tools they need. At the end of the day, it’s up to volunteers to get it done and to know who needs what. I think we can help in a lot of different ways to help equip you.”

Brooks made the case that it’s best to be on grade level and to stay there.

“Remediation is hard, expensive and not very effective,” he said.

Barber said reading is the key to all learning.

“If you read well, you can understand everything else better,” she said.

Mr. Fannings said that it’s critical to have kids engaged in education at an early age and to keep them engaged.

“The enthusiasm for learning is very low among some young people,” he said. “There are three active gangs at the high school level in Troup County. My son sees it all the time. I’m concerned about the young men in this age group.”

Fannings said having wholesome activities for students can help to deter gang involvement.

“We have a traveling basketball team at our church,” Fannings said. “It really helps to have them involved in something. It’s better than having them standing on a street corner with nothing to do and ganging together.”

Askew added that the Task Force is open to ideas from the community.

“If you have something you want to share, pass it along,” he said. “We will include it in our dialog to make sure it’s considered.”

Furtado said that he’d worked with lots of different age groups in Bible study.

“They can read but sometimes don’t comprehend what it means and can’t put it to use in their daily life,” he said. “I want us to put what they are learning into actual practice. I would like for us to partner with schools to help the children process information better.”

Hancock said that he felt the board is open to change, especially with a new superintendent coming in.

“We need some advocacy out there to help get the momentum going,” he said.

The Task Force is holding monthly meetings somewhere in Troup County.