Cougar Connection Ready for the Road
By Neil B. McGahee
Thanks to two grants of more than $1 million, Crisp County school system students can get a head’s up on reading skills.
The “Cougar Connection,” a former Crisp County High School bus — completely revamped — will hit the road soon bringing reading skills to anyone in need of help.
“We had to write a grant for the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement Innovation,” said Monica Warren, principal of Crisp County Primary School. “Part of the grant writing had us identify root causes as to why third graders are testing below grade level in reading skills?’”
“One of those causes was transportation being a barrier that was keeping parents from coming to participate in parent activities at the school. We knew if we could get the parents a piece of education about literacy and what they could be doing in their homes,
that that would be a great help.
“So we wrote the grant and asked for money to redo the bus and create a mobile learning lab.”
“The first grant we received was in December 2017,” Warren said. “It was for $671,895, from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s Innovation Grant.
But there was a slight problem.
“We found that we had only asked for enough money to do the outside of the bus,” Warren said. “So we wrote for funding from the L4GA grant so we could complete the bus.
“Our main goal is to get children entering school to be better prepared. When students enter pre-K, they take an assessment and it showed that about 65 percent of children entering pre-K were also performing below the norms that predict third grade reading levels.”
When the estimates for converting the bus proved astronomical, Warren tried to have the work done in house.
Crisp County High School shop teacher Wendell Smith designed the interior plan and was going to include his students in the actual work, but the pandemic hit and he didn’t have enough students to complete the project.
“Dr. Brandon Williams reached out to ‘Empowerment Pathways YouthBuild, ‘ one of our Crisp County Connection Partners,” Warren said. “And they did the work for us.”
As the opening of school approaches, Warren said she is scrambling to make sure everything is perfect.
“We have mobile hotspots so when we drive into an area, the students can connect their laptops,” she said. “We can program whatever anyone wants or needs. We are pretty much capable of providing whatever that community needs or wants. I’m excited to see what we haven’t even thought about yet.”