By Floyd Jernigan

A nationwide effort to get more parental and community involvement in education will find its way to Duncan if a citizens’ committee has its way.

The First Day of School America aims to offer first-day activities for families, from assemblies to workshops to picnics and parades.

“Parents go to school with their children and start the year right from day one by meeting teachers and building positive relationships that last all year,” notes the program’s literature.

And that fits in with the goal of the education committee of Dream Duncan’s Destiny.

DDD, as it has become known, includes over 100 citizens who have been meeting as part of a community effort that seeks to make Duncan a better place to live.

That process included a series of public sessions to identify target areas of improvement in the community and identified eight key areas of emphasis: city government, a drug-free community, education, social values, health, economic development, tourism, and facilities and activities.

Citizens then formed committees in each of these areas.

The group’s education vision for Duncan is “to be a community that encourages and provides educational opportunities for all individuals to reach their maximum potential.”

To do that, they have set goals and created action plans. One of them calls for the implementation of a communitywide Centennial literacy project in 2007 that will encourage parental involvement and ensure third-grade reading skills meet or exceed state-mandated requirements by 2008.

The key to this objective centers on community and parental involvement, said committee members.

The first public step of that process was launched Wednesday with the kickoff meeting for the Centennial Literacy Program at the Duncan Chamber of Commerce office.

Those in attendance included school administrators, principals and central office staff.

The citizens’ group wanted feedback from the school officials on the national First Day program to see if there would be interest in bringing that initiative to Duncan.

They got it as the school personnel responded with enthusiasm.

School officials noted they have been making similar efforts at their schools geared at parental involvement, with grandparents’ day at the elementaries and open houses, but not on this scale.

“We want this to be a way to get the community and the parents involved,” said DDD committee member Gretchen Taylor.

“We think this is a great idea,” said Superintendent Sherry Labyer. “Hopefully, this will become a tradition.”

“All you need is one parent for one hour,” to get started with making that initial connection between school, child and parent, said Plato Elementary School Principal John Millirons.

Answering a concern about those children who might not have a parent who could attend, Labyer noted that possibly members of the high school’s Student Council or honors students could serve as adoptive mentors for the day.

Other school administrators noted that retired educators could be a resource. Committee members added that grandparents and senior citizens could also help fill this possible void.

“It’s important to get extra adult attention for these children,” said Taylor.

Each elementary school would plan its own First Day activities with input from teachers. The common emphasis would be reading.

With the schools on board, the next step is to approach employers, said committee member JoAnn Pierce, principal at Mark Twain.

“We want to get buy-in from our business community and they can offer ideas and suggestions.”

The next step, said committee members, is publicizing this effort to the community and to the employers through The Duncan Banner, through the Chamber newsletter, in presentations to civic clubs, and through other business and industry contacts such as the Chamber, the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation and Main Street Duncan.

“We want to build a network of support from business and community leaders,” said committee member and Duncan Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Debra Burch.

Burch noted the Chamber would help promote the effort and work to find funding through grants and donations.

As part of the First Day effort, each child would receive a new book the first day of school, Burch added.

The program would start next year in Duncan elementary schools, with the goal of adding pre-K, Duncan Middle, Duncan High and surrounding school districts in future years.

The effort could also focus on one grade and add a grade a year.

“We want to start small this next year so we could learn and grow,” said Taylor.

This would also tie in with the efforts of the newly revitalized Stephens County Reading Association.

Labyer said the organization resurrected by a group of teachers, modeled after state and national initiatives, is also trying to “pull a group of citizens together and not just educators, who are interested in Stephens County reading and literacy.”

The First Day program is a good fit for all these efforts, noted DDD Co-Chairman Toby Baldwin.

“One of our hopes in getting Dream Duncan’s Destiny going was to be a resource for our schools and to encourage involvement by the community in the educational process.”

“We think the First Day program will be a wonderful effort to help raise the awareness level of how important the community is in educating our children,” summed up Pierce.

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