Written by Dwain Hebda
Betsy Bailey served 23 years in the classroom and in the communications/community relations role for the Searcy School District before she got the opportunity to enter the Clinton School of Public Service with her cohort in the spring of 2021.
It took her less than one year to create meaningful change for the district’s families, armed with what she’d learned.
“Our demographics in Searcy have changed quite a lot over the last several years,” Bailey said. “Our ESL community and the number of our low-income students have definitely grown, and we have seen learning loss through the pandemic over the last two years.
“We have never had a formal after-school program and we felt like there was a need, so we did a needs assessment for it and the response was phenomenal. What we found was 35 percent of families do not send their children to a private after-school program because they can’t afford to do so.”
Despite having no prior experience in grant writing, Bailey landed ESSR III funds through the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education sufficient to create the district’s first after-school program. The program, which employs seven, features different types of enrichment activities for the 150 low-income students it serves at no charge.
“We knew there was a great need for this, but when we sent out applications after we built the program, we were surprised to receive over 300 applications,” she said. “This was just in grades K-6.”
Bailey gives all the credit to the Clinton School curriculum for giving her the tools to create the program. She gave special recognition to her professor for the grants program, Barbara L’Eplattenier.
“I am so glad I chose the grants course as an elective,” Bailey said. “[L’Eplattenier] walked me through the entire process. She was so helpful and answered the phone or answered email whenever I had a question about something that I wasn’t sure about on the grants.”
Bailey isn’t done transforming the landscape of the Searcy School District. For her Capstone project, she intends to tackle another longstanding wish-list item, that of a pre-Kindergarten program to help ensure children are sufficiently prepared to start school. She’s determined to bring the ambitious program into reality in time for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
“My project will address the lack of Kindergarten readiness for students in our school district,” she said. “We know our low-income families do not have the opportunity to pay for their children to attend pre-K, so they don’t get the education that some of their peers start with. We want to give them the opportunity to be caught up and ready to go once they walk through those Kindergarten doors.
“We’re going to start small, maybe two to three pre-K classes. We have to find a facility; we don’t know at the moment if we’re going to do our own facility or if we’re going to house the first year at one of our campuses or at multiple campuses. That’s the exciting part, digging in and figuring out how it’s all going to work.”
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