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Town using grant to work with at-risk youth

Work has started on a Town of Jonesborough project to develop an early intervention program for at-risk children in the community, according to Town Administrator Bob Browning.
The town received a $17,000 grant from the East Tennessee Foundation in June for the project, which will involve a partnership with Washington County Schools and EPIC Evolutions.
Although the Town of Jonesborough does not directly operate its own schools, Browning said, town leaders are keenly aware of the impact of a good education on the economic stability as well as the quality of life of town residents.
The program will be designed to incorporate the use of story, arts activities, training and counseling to help struggling youth in Jonesborough Elementary and Middle schools, according to Browning. Town staff and volunteers will be working with the two-year project.
“Town staff members Melinda Copp, Rachel Conger, Alicia Phelps and Amber Crumley were involved in the EPIC training in October,” Browning said. “I also attended some of the training.”
“The general approach is to use the EPIC approach to work with the at-risk kids, while overlaying the use of the arts with it to impact these kids in a positive way,” he added.
Washington County Schools currently has the EPIC program in place throughout its system. The program is designed to combine Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy with expressive arts and narrative therapies to provide a comprehensive, culture changing positive-focused program to combat bullying and anti-social behavior, while building self-esteem and deeper, more meaningful connections to others.
Browning explained that part of the program will include the training of young kids to collect and tell their stories.
“By working with kids and teaching them how to be a better storybuilder,” Browning said, “it will give them skills which are designed to develop self-esteem.”
Of the total amount of the grant, most will go to pay for consultants and to compensate some of the people involved in the training, Browning said.
“The most effective use of the money will be getting everybody on the same page and then training those people and planning and coordinating the program. We can do that largely through classes that we get established and by working with the schools to get students involved in those classes.”
Even though the grant was awarded during the summer, implementation of the project will be slower on the front end, Browning said.
“This time period is for working on curriculum and working with teachers and training and deciding the approach,” he said. “It will impact more students in the spring and then the next year.”
The town will partner with the International Storytelling Center to use the power of storytelling in activities that enhance learning and will also utilize the town’s strong theater education program through the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, to develop a comprehensive arts program that will be housed at the McKinney Center, according to Browning.
The program, which will become part of the Mary B. Martin Program For The Arts, will be used as both an in-school and after-school program that will positively impact at-risk youth and improve learning opportunities and academic achievement for Jonesborough children.
According to Browning, some of the teachers who will be involved will include Sharon Squibb, Lark Foster and Billy Bledsoe, as well as former JRT artistic director, Kathleen Buttolph.
Evaluation of the program will be done, in part, by Dr. Rosiland Gann and Jean Smith of East Tennessee State University. Additionally, Washington County School personnel will participate in the process, Browning said, using past criteria to identify at-risk youth.