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Safe Harbor after school program in place

Two programs are helping children in local school districts to lead healthy and educated lifestyles.

The first is Healthy Lifestyles, which is funded with grant money provided by the Robert Ward Johnson Foundation, the largest health foundation in the world, said Debra Smith with Healthy Lifestyles in Poplarville.

The Healthy Lifestyles program provides those children with the opportunity to learn how to eat right and exercise. The Robert Johnson Foundation, through the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, granted the program more than a million dollars for four years, which works closely with Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor was a success last summer by providing children with the opportunity to escape from the confines of temporary housing.

“Safe Harbor during the summer was a recreational fun camp intended to give a safe place to be instead of in their FEMA trailer,” Smith said.

Money for Safe Harbor was raised in part by Dr. Ted Alexander and also granted through the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation, Smith said.

“It became his passion and ambition to raise the money,” Smith said.

Safe Harbor recently received about half a million in funding from the National Recreation Foundation to continue their work to children affected by Hurricane Katrina, said Safe Harbor Project Coordinator Dawn Bechtel. The after school program under Safe Harbor is a continuation of the summer Safe Harbor program, Bechtel said. Three school districts are involved in the program, which include Pearl River Central, Poplarville and Bay-Waveland.

The after school programs are set to begin Jan. 22 and take place three days a week in Poplarville and PRC and four days a week in Bay-Waveland. Poplarville and PRC are set to have their programs Monday, Tuesday and Thursday while Bay Waveland will have theirs Monday through Thursday. All programs will be two hours long after school. The after school program will focus on learning and also have activities that will have counseling components. Smith said that research has shown that post traumatic stress disorder does not set in for about 12 to 18 months after an event.

“So that’s why we have that counseling component incorporated into our activities,” Smith said.

During those activities certified and trained personnel determine children who would benefit from counseling, Smith said. Since some of the high school students who worked as counselors last summer have asked to help with the after school program, they will also benefit from the counseling.

Louise Smith with the Poplarville School District said there are still about 300 displaced or homeless children in her district. To help keep up with the financial need Louise Smith said Safe Harbor will use other funding streams as they become available.

Currently there are about 300 students signed up to participate in the Safe Harbor Program in the Poplarville area and about 130 students in the Bay Waveland area. No figures were available for PRC at press time. Programs at Poplarville and Bay Waveland are full but parents can register their child to a waiting list.

One of the activities that the Safe Harbor program has helped fund is a Poplarville High School production of “Grease”. Poplarville drama instructor Mel Hall said the production is set to have a special patron’s party on April 13. Interested businesses, organizations or individuals who donate funds to the production will be invited to the patron’s party. Hall said that they are looking for donations of $100 and up. The production will also offer the sale of advertisement to raise funds, which will be professionally printed by a local printing company with the lowest bid, Hall said.

Tutoring sessions will also be offered during the after school program for students having trouble. Tutors will be certified teachers who will focus on Math, Science, English and Social Studies, said Poplarville High Principal Ilene Davis. In instances where students may have to work after school they are encouraged to come as often as they can, even if it is not on all days tutoring is offered.

“Because I want them to get what ever they can, especially for students who may have failed subjects. This could be a very good aid to them,” Davis said.

Poplarville lower and upper elementary will also benefit from the Safe Harbor program. Poplarville Lower Elementary Principal Diane Herndon said there will be sectioned out sessions each day that will focus on every aspect of the learning process, such as tutoring, computer work, activities and reading. Those same program will also be used at the upper elementary, Herndon said. Children will also get a chance once a week to learn Spanish from a teacher who will alternate between the two elementary schools.