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Getting parents involved may have been key to BC recognition

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By Stephen Thomas

SHEPHERDSVILLE ee" The annual Cowherd Award for Center Excellence is presented to the state’s top Youth Service Center, Family Resource Center and combination of both.

Though there are no combination centers in the county, two Bullitt centers claimed the state’s YSC and FRC awards, including Maryville/Overdale Elementary Hand In Hand FRC coordinator Betty Marshall.

Where Marshall primarily assists families, Bullitt Central YSC coordinator Tonia Wiggins works directly with students. Wiggins’ efforts earned a Cowherd Award, placing her YSC at the top of 270 centers throughout Kentucky.

In its third year at Bullitt Central, Wiggins believed the YSC was honored based on the numerous programs implemented at the school, such as a parent email distribution list.

“Parents felt they did not know what was going on in the school,” said Wiggins. “They are now aware. We have over 700 emails separated by the students’ grade levels. We make sure parents know the activities going on. It’s our job to improve relations with parents, the community and students.”

Wiggins said the YSC allows students a place to discuss personal issues and participate in fun activities. The Bullitt Central YSC offers information on difficult topics including healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, dating violence, suicide and anger management along with drug and alcohol education.

“Guidance counselors are more academic, where we’re more personal with students,” said Wiggins. “We talk with them and get them help.”

One of Wiggins’ programs, Career in Character Education (CCE), began last year to enhance school dropout prevention. High-risk students are identified and offered a one-hour per week program featuring social skills, anger management, career exploration and alternative education.

“If students abide, based on attendance, they get a half credit toward graduation,” said Wiggins. “That was approved by the school’s Site-Based council.”

CCE students can earn gift cards provided through program grant funding. Wiggins said CCE improved student attitude and behavior, grades, and increased graduation interest through alternative methods such as Bullitt County Adult and Community Education’s Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program.

“It’s still a positive completion for us as long as the student graduates,” Wiggins added.

A popular YSC program was a week-long dance instruction class designed to promote positive after-school activity and help prepare students for upcoming testing. Wiggins mentioned idle time following the school day could result in higher risks of alcohol or drug use.

The YSC helped establish a free lunch form competition, with classes returning the most forms earning money for extra classroom materials. Wiggins said the competition format increased Bullitt Central’s free lunch population. The true benefit, however, was learning of students with needs that may not have been previously contacted.

“It was very beneficial in reaching those families that might normally not apply,” she said. “It reduced the stigma of completing the forms.”

One of Wiggins’ most productive programs included Bullitt Central’s involvement in the “Keep It Real” video competition. “Keep It Real” challenged students to create 30-second commercial spots pertaining to underage drinking.

Thanks to assistance from Wiggins and instructor Tim Lands, Bullitt Central dominated the Louisville region competition, with one commercial being aired nationally on television.

“We won five overall awards and two honorable mentions (in eight categories),” said Wiggins. “The video contest was a great success.”

Wiggins and the YSC play an important role in the new Cougar Connection program, created by Bullitt Central to offer special mentoring assistance for all students.

Based on the YSC program’s design, Cougar Connection allows each Bullitt Central teacher opportunities to meet with individual students. Teachers assess and identify issues, then send students to the YSC office for further assistance.

“This is a very good part for us with the school,” Wiggins said. “This has been a huge honor.”

Bullitt Central principal Christy Coulter credited the YSC for helping school staff train an entire young person, not just the student.

“All teachers in the building are working together to help the students,” said Coulter. “This was a way for (Wiggins) to get and give information, to help serve students.”

Coulter acknowledged Wiggins as an asset in reaching a larger number of the student population, crediting her as an added administrator and counselor.

“We brought her to the table as an intregal part of serving students,” said Coulter. “She helps reach the barriers. She fills in the gaps.”

Wiggins brainstorms ways to assist student needs in all aspects of life. One of the new ways is keeping a supply of clothes in her office courtesy of donations by Cato Fashions.

“They donate many clothes, including dress clothes for job interviews,” said Wiggins. “We can also use clothes for Christmas assistance.”

To aid the important transition from middle to high school, Wiggins helped to implement a marijuana education program at Bernheim and Bullitt Lick Middle with YSC coordinator Tara Davis. Wiggins said older students were selected to present the program to younger students.

Wiggins began helping teens in 1997 as a court-designated worker in Bullitt County Juvenile Court. From there she joined Seven Counties Services, Inc., assisting teens with drug and alcohol issues along with in-home crisis counseling.

Prior to her stint with Bullitt Central, Wiggins acted as BCACE JAG Program coordinator. JAG offers assistance such as GED instruction, job search assistance, college placement and resume help.

“JAG was great but a smaller scale,” she said. “With the YSC I can help a maximum number of students all at once.”

Wiggins always enjoyed working with and assisting teenagers. She mentioned that watching teens grow up in assistance homes helped her understand how they got where they were. She also discovered the possibilities of positive intervention.

“It’s important to help students because they will be running the country when we retire,” she said. “Each time we lose a teen it’s a consequence for the future. I like to be able to help make a difference. When you can make a positive change in a student’s life, that’s a big joy.”