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Top Spotlight on Success
Communities at a Crossroads
Greenville, Leland, and Sunflower Counties, MS

In the heart of the Mississippi Delta lies its unofficial capital, Greenville, MS, often described as “the Crossroads of the Delta” and long famous for its blues music and the fall festival celebrating Delta blues. More recently, however, Greenville, along with the neighboring communities of Leland and Sunflower County, has become known for changing how schools and communities work together to shape today’s students into tomorrow’s citizens through their Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative: Project CROSSROADS.

Delta residents, especially their children, face a crossroads of their own. Not unlike many communities across the Nation, Project CROSSROADS school districts and their constituents struggle with risk factors leading to dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, delinquency, violence, and substance abuse. An opportunity to address these daunting problems came in 2002 when the three school districts were awarded an SS/HS grant.

Many parents and community members had an ‘ah-ha moment’ that if our children don’t feel safe, it affects their ability to learn.

—Janet Brown, Project Director, Project CROSSROADS, Greenville, MS

“While a number of agencies were providing services, there was not sufficient coordination of those services, and that became a big problem for our communities,” said Janet Brown, project director for Project CROSSROADS. “We were duplicating some services in some areas and totally missing people who really needed help in others. We needed to come together to fill the gaps.”

The first task for the three-district initiative was to bring together a coalition of community partners from law enforcement, mental health, and juvenile justice agencies, and others in the community to find ways to work toward providing more comprehensive services for children and families. Project CROSSROADS developed a directory of services and a referral system to ensure that families, teachers, and others close to at-risk students have greater access to mental health and other support and treatment services.

Project CROSSROADS’ partners are working to ensure that access to these services will be sustained beyond their initial funding by participating in the local school district’s Federal Programs Advisory Committee. Their long-term goal is to scale up this process to the State level by serving on the Mississippi Department of Education’s Strengthening State Health and Education Agency Partnerships Committee, which is exploring ways to offer these services on the state level.

A New Opportunity for Students

Initially, Project CROSSROADS began working with students in mentoring, intramural sports, and arts programs. As part of an effort to reengage students in their education, Project CROSSROADS worked with the 21 st Century Learning Centers and local district efforts to integrate intramural sports/recreation, mentoring, and the arts into the after-school academic program. Through this process, students were able to receive support in the academic areas where test results indicated they had weaknesses, and they also were able to develop self-esteem, social skills, and problem-solving skills. Students rediscovered their enthusiasm for learning, an essential ingredient for healthy growth and development.

Brown beams when she describes two young people who participated in a Project CROSSROADS program. The students had experienced behavior problems that could have led them to drop out of school. After these students completed the arts/drama program, their parents expressed to Project CROSSROADS staff that the program had changed their children’s attitudes toward themselves, their school, and their future. The next school year, these two students were elected to the student council. The impact of this program turned these students’ lives around 180 degrees, and they are just two success stories of a program in high demand.

On top of their successful after-school program, the Greenville-Leland-Sunflower Counties Project CROSSROADS Consortia has trained teachers in the PeaceBuilders program and Restorative Justice, programs designed to reduce discipline infractions. These programs teach students to incorporate respect and responsibility into their daily routine. The Common Sense Parenting and Dare To Be You parenting programs give families the opportunity to improve problem-solving, self-esteem, and communication skills to prevent substance abuse and risky behavior as children grow. The Washington County Anti-Drug Community Partnership has worked with the three school districts to provide teachers and support staff with training in conflict resolution and classroom management. Project CROSSROADS has also increased access to mental health services for students by offering school-based therapy through the local mental health centers.

Community Conversations

Complementing their programmatic work, Project CROSSROADS worked with the Greenville District’s Federal Programs Division to sponsor Community Conversations, a communications effort to educate the larger community shareholders about the relationship between school safety and academic performance. They provided surveys and used the information to help them reach out and educate parents and community members about the role each can play in making safer, healthier, and more successful schools for children.

“Many parents and community members had an ‘ah-ha moment’ that if our children don’t feel safe, then it affects their ability to learn,” said Brown. “Johnny may not be able to focus on learning in the classroom if he’s worried about the bully who’s threatened to jump him on the way home from school—he’s thinking about his escape plan instead.”

“Until we help children change their attitudes toward each other, we won’t fix the problem,” said Brown. “It all boils down to helping children have the skills to make good choices.” If the Greenville, Leland, and Sunflower Counties stood at a crossroads before their SS/HS initiative, they’re now further down the road to success.

Communities on the Road to Success: Greenville, Leland, and Sunflower Counties, MS
Poverty and unemployment rates have contributed to increased risk of academic and behavior problems facing children and families in the Mississippi Delta. In 2002, a three-district consortium was formed through a SS/HS grant to reverse those trends by building protective factors to help at-risk students and families find their way back onto the road to success. Classroom-based programs such as PeaceBuilders help teachers incorporate lessons about decision-making and social skills as part of the daily routine. Offerings for parents, such as Dare To Be You and Common Sense Parenting, help parents work on communication, problem-solving skills, and self-esteem with their children. After-school programs help youth at risk for school failure and problem behaviors discover their potential and also offer them safe, supervised places to be after school. Although grant funding is ending, programs for families and students will remain, highlighting the commitment the Greenville, Leland, and Sunflower County communities have made to their children and families.

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Last Updated on 1/27/2015