By CLEVELAND TINKER
Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 3:18 p.m.
Alachua County middle school students who are suspended or at risk of being suspended now have an alternative to missing school and falling behind in their class work, members of the Black on Black Crime Task Force learned at its monthly meeting in September.
In a presentation by Sam Haywood, student services specialist with Alachua County Public Schools, the more than 50 people attending the meeting held last Wednesday at the Kirby Smith Center learned about the Alachua County Public Schools Alternative Learning Center, a voluntary program for middle school students that will provide academic and behavioral assistance for five to 15 days to help students stay on track with their school work in a structured and supervised environment.
“This is a great way to keep students under supervision who are suspended,” said Haywood.
The center is located at the Manning Complex at 1817 E. University Ave. and operates from 9:15 a.m.-3:35 p.m. on school days. Eligibility requirements include the following:
* Students in sixth through eighth grade.
* Having a minimum three-day suspension or a history of out-of-school suspensions for the current school year.
* Parental consent.
* Being involved in school-based interventions to address behavioral concerns.
* Parents must accompany students on their first day to the center. The School Board will not provide transportation and the program can only accommodate 10 students at a time.
The program will help students continue their studies by using a credit retrieval program for middle school students. A Positive Behavioral Support Plan also will be developed for the students. Haywood said the goal of the program is to help students develop better decision-making and problem-solving skills.
In other news:
* Haywood highlighted Alachua YouthBuild, an intensive seven-month program where students ages 16 to 24 study for the GED, build and rehabilitate low-income housing, earn nationally recognized construction certifications and develop leadership, life and employability skills. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Alachua YouthBuild is operated by the Institute for Workforce Innovation. For more information, call 352-225-3307.
* Haywood said the School Board sent out 175 letters to parents of elementary school students who missed 15 or more days from school last school year to make them and the community aware “that we are cracking down” on parents who don’t make sure their children get to school. He said parents of students who have excessive absences from school can be summoned to appear in court.
“The judges are aware of the parents who are not getting their children to school,” Haywood said.
* The Rev. Karl V. Smith, pastor of Greater Bethel AME Church, who also serves as the chair of the task force strategic planning committee, gave an update on P.E.A.R.S., an initiative aimed at preventing young people, especially black males, from entering the criminal justice system.
He said P.E.A.R.S. stands for parental involvement, education and awareness, active engagement in targeted communities, relationship with stakeholders, and success. He said the committee is in the process of developing a partnership with the School Board to allow male volunteers to walk the halls of every school in Alachua County.
* Belinda Smith of Women Networking with Women, a Gainesville-based nonprofit, spoke briefly on behalf of Jancie Vinson and the Coalition for Justice. She said the coalition hosted an “Empowering Our Youth for Greatness” event in late August at the Bobby Vinson Youth Ranch in southwest Gainesville.
She said nearly 170 children attended the event, which will be held every other month. She said results from surveys handed out revealed that 90 percent of the girls at the event don’t like how they look.
“We have many girls walking around this city who don’t think they look pretty,” said Smith.
The coalition meets every other Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Fe College Center for Innovation and Economic Development at 530 W. University Ave. For more information, call 352-872-8555.
* Gainesville Police Department Chief Tony Jones announced that GPD and other community stakeholders are now prepared to implement the grant it received last year to combat the disproportionate minority contact problem in Alachua County regarding juvenile crime.
Jones said GPD will partner with the Alachua County Public Schools, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Juvenile Justice, Public Defender’s Office and State Attorneys Office to help juvenile offenders who are on probation, but still in school, get on the right track.
“This is what we are doing to impact the schools-to-prison pipeline,” Jones said.
The task force meets at 5:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at Kirby Smith at 620 E. University Ave.
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