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Heritage House seeks community help to keep program open

Heritage House officials are seeking public support to keep the program open to students in grades 4 through 12 for the next few weeks, until a grant amendment can be secured.

Officials from the State Department of Education conducted the first official monitoring visit of the Heritage House after-school program on Friday. Program directors were advised that under the terms of the 21st Century Grant awarded to the Hazlehurst Consortium two years ago, the program can only serve Hazlehurst students in grades 7 through 9.

Since opening its doors last June the Heritage House has established several programs for students in grades 4 through 12, including a boys choir and a dance troupe. Director Dr. Janet Schriver reported that she understood the federal guidelines to allow the program to be opened to other ages and schools if space was available.

“The grant targets 7th through 9th, but we never meant to exclude everyone else,” said Schriver.

“21st Century is a community grant, but it’s very program-specific,” explained Charlotte Bryant, director of 21st Century grant program for the Mississippi Department of Education. “The application was written for 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. That’s what you have to abide by.”

Schriver said that’s not what she understood at the beginning. “The choir and dance company can’t perform if we stop now,” she said. Holiday performances are scheduled for both groups. “We need an amendment quickly so the children won’t be disappointed.”

Department of Education officials explained that state guidelines require an amendment be secured before deviating from the grant’s specifics. If the need can be proven, then an amendment can be secured to expand the program. Officials will need at least 10 working days to process the paperwork, they said.

In the meantime, while program directors prepare the amendment paperwork, funding from other sources must be secured to pay for the activities of students not in grades 7 through 9. If 21st Century grant funds are used to pay for students not covered by the grant, then those funds will have to be paid back, state officials cautioned.

Several parents and community leaders met with the state officials to show their support of the Heritage House program during Friday’s meeting.

“A lot of efforts have been made to target 7th through 9th graders, but the parental involvement is coming from K through 4th,” said Charita Singleton-Smith, project manager for Heritage House. “The majority of the kids are elementary.”

The 21st Century program is highly competitive, the state official pointed out. “There is a need here, that’s why it was awarded,” she said. But the need must be documented before a grant amendment will be approved.

MDE officials also asked for documentation to show that the city and county are providing the building and utilities for Heritage House. “Federal dollars are always meant to supplement, not supplant,” Bryant said, adding that if the use of federal grants are not properly monitored, then the state may lose access to these funds. “And the Mississippi education system can not function without federal dollars,” she said.

Copiah County Supervisor Terry Channell said, “This is a new program, we’re still learning. But we can get over this rock in the path and move on.” Channell suggested raising money in the community to cover the students not targeted by the grant until an amendment can be secured.

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