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Dayton School Wins Grant for Early Learners

While giving a presentation in Frankfort, leaders from the Dayton Independent School District got wind of a grant opportunity that could benefit its youngest students.

Superintendent Jay Brewer, counselor Naomi Colliver, and Lincoln Elementary principal Heather Dragan went to the state capital in March to present on its Core Life program, which, in October, was credited for boosting student achievement and behavior.

"A few schools went down to make presentations like ours, and we found out at the presentation that there was grant money we could apply for on this topic, and the schools that made the presentations were given a chance to apply first," Dragan recalled.

The Early Childhood Healthy Living Initiative garnered dozens of proposals from more than 70 schools, with funding requests of over $900,000 total. 

In late May, Dayton's Lincoln Elementary was notified that it had been awarded $40,000, the largest single sum for a school.

The program, which targets youngsters in preschool through 4th grade, calls for the creation of "parent nights" throughout the school year, physical exercise, and adequate nutrition. The students will also explore educational components related to substance abuse, and tobacco and alcohol prevention.

"They want to get to kids early to instill the notion of healthy living, and simultaneously work with parents to educate them about talking to their kids about drugs," said Dragan. "They liked our Core Life program and felt it would be helpful to our students, especially when the prerequisites of their program are in line with our program and help build on it."

Some of the state's highest-ranking educational and health leaders - including Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and Health Commissioner Dr. Hiram Polk - listened to Dayton's presentation who responded positively to the district's initiatives and goals.

The grant funds are expected to be in the district's coffers in July, but Dragan said the school is already working on booking guest speakers for parent nights and collaborating with the Campbell County Drug-Free Alliance.

"We already have incorporated the healthy options with our Core Life program in the grades preschool through sixth, and now we are adding this program which is targeted to preschool through grade four," Dragan said. "We already send home weekly newsletters and fridge magnets to help remind parents to reinforce the messages at home. The teachers are forward-thinking about this and will try to incorporate the healthy/anti-drug message in everything they teach."

There are high expectations for this program at the state level, too.

In the award letter sent to Lincoln Elementary, Dr. Polk wrote, "It is, in my opinion, our greatest hope."

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor