Jefferson-Houston parents seek grant dollars

By Julia Brouillette (File Photo)

Jefferson-Houston’s Parent Teacher Association is hoping to secure a $10,000 grant from a local nonprofit for afterschool activities and a planned summer learning program called All About Alexandria.

Helen Morris, who serves as treasurer for the association, submitted an application to ACT for Alexandria, outlining Jefferson-Houston students’ need for cultural enrichment.

“Almost 75 percent of the 360 students at [Jefferson-Houston] live in poverty,” she wrote. “In their world, travel, art or music lessons and academic enrichment outside school — opportunities middle-class families take for granted — are simply out of reach.”

Jefferson-Houston’s PTA — with an annual budget of around $8,000 — cannot provide the kind of enrichment programs that other Alexandria public schools enjoy.

“Because of our parents’ financial constraints, we cannot raise the level of funds we need within our own school community,” Morris said.

Though Jefferson-Houston regularly receives funding from the state, association work relies solely on the community, according to Morris.

In ACT for Alexandria’s first Caring for Kids Grant Challenge, the nonprofit will award three grants — of $10,000, $7,500 and $2,500 — based on the needs of at-risk kids from birth to 18 in the areas of health, well-being, education, afterschool programs or early childcare.

With the extra cash, the PTA would fund All About Alexandria – a summer learning program designed to provide students with opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life situations. The program would include field trips and afterschool programs that give students a look into the history, geography and culture of Alexandria and the region.

“[Jefferson-Houston] sits just miles from many historically significant places, but they are worlds away for our students,” Morris said. “Few of [our students] have visited Mount Vernon, walked the Manassas battlefield, heard a Kennedy Center performance or visited the Natural 
History Museum.”

The grant also would provide stipends for Jefferson-Houston’s afterschool choral, band and orchestra teachers.

“We really believe that music can serve a lot of great educational purposes, and we’d like more time for our kids to be able to do music,” Morris said.

Jefferson-Houston students can participate in martial arts, chess club, Girl Scouts or dance team after school. But with such limited opportunities, many students are unable to participate.

“We provide some afterschool enrichment programs through our PTA … but we’d like to expand that to things like a debate club, school newspaper and author visitor series,” Morris said.

Parents like Delphine Stewart, whose three children attend the school, say the grant will help provide Jefferson-Houston students with even the most common school materials, such as yearbooks.

“Things that you and I took for granted just because they were there — like a drama club and intramural sports — aren’t there for these kids,” she said.
ACT for Alexandria will announce the grant winners August 1.

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