At-Home Learning Resources Nurture Children’s Minds in Mitchell County

by Madeline Zupko

In Mitchell County, where 42.3% of children live in poverty—more than double the rate of the rest of the state—there is a critical need for supporting parents of young children. When COVID-19 swept through the county last year intensifying those conditions, local leaders mobilized to reach their most vulnerable families.

“We saw the homeless rate of our students increase,” said Cindy Smith, Pelham City Schools Charter System Title 1 parent coordinator and homeless liaison. “With the pandemic circumstances added on top of existing challenges, parents were also faced with loss of employment, which became a need for food and stabilized housing.”

Jessica Jennings, coordinator of Mitchell County Children and Youth, a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative, said families are still seeking assistance with rent, mortgage, and utility bill payments due to loss of work hours or employment.

“Our families will struggle to get caught up on past-due bills and debt once they’re back working normal hours, because most of them were living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic,” said Jennings. “And with limited internet and technology, they’re really struggling to make the connections to resources that they need.”

Jalaysia Malloy, a DFCS kinship navigator, heads out to distribute materials to children and families in Mitchell County.

Mitchell County was selected as one of five pilot counties for the Get Georgia Reading at Home initiative. The Collaborative received a $1,725 grant to purchase materials to help parents teach their children while learning from home.

“When determining where to distribute these resources, we looked at all of the schools’ schedules,” said Jennings. “Pelham City Schools had students attending in person two days each week and virtually the other three days. Because their students were at home more than the rest, we felt they would need these at-home resources the most.”

In addition to the Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s Getting Ready Guides, families of children in pre-K through second grade also received children’s books and information on financial and food assistance. Smith noted that the packets provide exceptional hands-on support for parents guiding the learning process at home throughout the school year and summer months.

“We’re so happy that parents could receive this helpful resource, which allows the school to focus parent engagement funds on other much-needed resources,” said Smith. “The guides are user friendly with plenty of ideas for at-home learning without extra cost to implement them. The recommendations incorporate readily available materials and don’t require outside training.”

Brandi Maxwell, who is raising two boys—Wyatt, 5, and Miles, 11 months—was thankful to receive the Get Georgia Reading at Home resources during a challenging school year.

“Wyatt was already a year behind due to his late birthday, and he had speech problems which also put him behind most kids his age,” said Maxwell. “Going to school in person only two days each week didn’t help. It was a struggle to get him to focus on homework and retain what he was learning. This kit has kept him focused on working on what he’s learning—and will continue to learn. He’s ready to do a couple of pages each day. It’s something he enjoys doing that keeps his interest.”

Georgia Family Connection Collaboratives in Burke, Decatur, Hancock, Mitchell, and Sumter counties are participating in the Get Georgia Reading at Home pilot program, which provides materials to families that live in communities with low broadband access and a high prevalence of COVID-19 infection. Learn more.