Children’s Policy Council empowers rural youth

Published 10:30 am Friday, June 7, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

by: Victoria A. Salters 

Special to The Lowndes Signal

Lowndes County boasts a poverty rate of more than twice the national average. One local group has been working to uplift the youngest members of the county and ensure they have opportunities to better their lives.  

Email newsletter signup

Led by Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson since 2011, the Lowndes County Children’s Policy Council (CPC) has embarked on numerous initiatives aimed at enriching the lives of the area’s children.

“I’m grateful to be able to serve the people of Lowndes County, and I have witnessed firsthand the incredible impact the CPC’s initiatives have had on our community,” he said.  

One such initiative, the “Get Lit” literacy bus, roams county streets on Saturdays, inviting youngsters to immerse themselves in the world of books. By encouraging a passion for reading, the program seeks to ignite a spark of literacy in the county’s youth, paving the way for brighter futures. 

The “Get Lit” bus features comfortable seating, wireless internet, laptops and books. School media specialists from Lowndes County Schools are also tapped into the initiative and act as Mobile librarians in the community. 

The goal of the “Get Lit” initiative is to help ensure that third graders hit the required literacy benchmarks before being promoted to the fourth grade. The Alabama Legislature passed the Alabama Literacy Act in 2019, and with concerns over the lack of instruction time in the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alabama Legislature delayed implementation of the law until the 2023 – 2024 school year.

As part of the law, students are required to make a minimum score on the state’s standardized test in reading or show they have mastery of all of the third grade reading standards through a state-approved portfolio. 

Alabama’s legislation was based on similar bills passed in both Florida and Mississippi. Both states have seen significant gains in literacy since the implementation of the new standards. 

In September, the Alabama Board of Education lowered the cut score for the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) after there was concern that more than 12,000 third graders across the state would not meet the needed mark to be promoted to the fourth grade. The state board of education (BOE) had established a score of 452 in 2021 but lowered the score to 435 in September. 

Now, some 10,000 students would be impacted, with a majority being eligible for promotion to the fourth grade due to exemptions. That leaves an estimated 3,000 third graders in danger of third-grade retention if benchmarks go unmet. The “Get Lit” initiative, designed to help ensure standards are met, is essential to the 1,180 students of Lowndes County. 

Test scores show that just 10% of elementary students in Lowndes County tested at or above the proficient level for reading; 20% of middle school students tested at or above the proficient level and just 9% of high school students met or exceeded the proficiency level, according to a report by US News & World Report. 

The mobile library is the second initiative the CPC has been involved in aimed at promoting literacy in the county. The group also partnered with the River Region United Way to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Lowndes County in 2022. The program is now available for children from birth to 5 years old to receive a free book each month. 

Another initiative, the CPC’s Character in Action program, targets kindergarten through 12th grade students. 

“The Character in Action program aims to recognize and celebrate those who exemplify exceptional behavior and values within their school community,” Johnson said. 

Through the effort, students are not only acknowledged for their positive contributions but also encouraged to cultivate a culture of kindness and integrity. 

In honor of the late Sheriff John Williams, a beloved figure in the community and a dedicated member of the CPC, the council established the Big John Williams Scholarship.  

Awarding $2,000 each to three deserving graduates of Lowndes County schools annually, the scholarship not only honors Sheriff Williams’ memory but also underscores the council’s commitment to nurturing the next generation of leaders. So far, the CPC has awarded nearly $20,000 in scholarships in Williams’ honor and in 2024, the council awarded scholarships to four high school students and two graduates already in college.  

“Big John’s dedication to the Children’s Policy Council was unwavering, and his legacy lives on through this scholarship,” Johnson said 

The Children’s Policy Council works with the Lowndes County Public Schools’ board regularly to further meet the needs of students.

Lowndes County Public Schools Superintendent Samita Jeter acknowledged the value of the partnership between the CPC and the school system. 

“The Lowndes County Children’s Policy Council is a true advocate for students,” she said, confirming that the group of professionals who make up the council all have the mutual goal of improving the lives of children and their families in Lowndes County. “We meet to collaborate to share resources to assist students. Beyond literacy and providing scholarships, the CPC works to address challenges such as recidivism, parent involvement, and family violence.” 

Other ways the CPC has made a difference include a program called Fatal Vision Day which partners CPC members with the juvenile court and local first responders to conduct a program at all three high schools – The Calhoun School, Central High School in Hayneville and Lowndes Academy – in an effort to educate students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Representatives from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), Alabama Beverage Control Board (ABC), Black Belt Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking, the Second Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, the Council on Substance Abuse, the Alabama Department of Human Resources and the Lowndes and Butler County Sheriff’s offices. 

The council also helps mitigate expenses for area parents and has held an annual back-to-school rally, providing backpacks and school supplies to Lowndes County students. 

During the Christmas holidays, the CPC also donates gifts to Lowndes County foster children to help make their Christmases a little brighter.