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A Lesson For Everyone New Literacy Program Helps Parents, Children In Wallace Area

FROM FOR THE RECORD - IDAHO EDITION (Saturday, October 4, 1997): Correction Headline incorrect: The literacy program in Wallace has existed for years, but was recently relocated along with several other education programs. A headline in Thursday’s paper reported otherwise.

Some parents who walk into the Wallace Elementary Building every morning to drop off their children at preschool or day care don’t come back out.

Not until the school bell rings at 3 p.m.

The grand old structure has a new role this fall, since the district restructured and relocated several special programs.

Sixteen families participate in the Even Start preschool program, where parents can work with their kids for an hour before heading upstairs to brush up on their own reading skills. Literacy programs like Even Start target rural areas with a history of blue-collar labor, said Sheryl Drewry, adult basic education. In the Silver Valley, many residents dropped out of school early to work in the mines or the woods.

“Literacy is a family issue,” Drewry said. “So it’s nice to have everyone in one spot to approach those goals.”

Rachel Mills, a senior at Silver Valley High School, drops off her 2-year-old son Zachary at the first-floor day care before heading up to the third-floor alternative school.

“It feels a lot safer being in the same building,” Mills said. “If an emergency does come up you can just run downstairs.”

Last year, the alternative school operated out of a narrow corridor of small rooms above the Wallace Post Office. Parents were blocks away from their children, which proved especially difficult for new mothers, Mills said. “Zachary used to always cry and I would have to leave, but now there’s more security for both of us.”

Day care, preschool and kindergarten staff say they can now communicate more easily and track students better.

“We can dash across the hall and say did you work with this child? What did you see?” Drewry said.

Contentious discussions over how the district should utilize its space began last year. Before, the elementary grades were split, with half attending Wallace Elementary School and half at Osburn Elementary. For better supervision and to avoid shuttling the principal between two schools, the school board decided to consolidate the elementary grades.

Built in 1928, the three-story brick Wallace Elementary Building has more classrooms, but parents and teachers at Osburn got support to keep the grade school there - at a smaller building, but in a more residential setting where there’s a large playground.

The Wallace School District’s enrollment has dropped steadily for three decades, said longtime Superintendent Frank Bertino. In 1964-65 there were 1,600 students in grades K-12, compared to 699 now. The decline means less state money to support existing programs, but it also frees up space inside the schools.

Unfortunately, still not everybody has elbow room. Because the elementary children are in Osburn, the special services for slow-learners and disabled students also must be there. The resource rooms are squeezed into an old remodeled locker room along with the gym equipment, for example. Meanwhile, Wallace Elementary offers spacious, sunny rooms with tall windows and hardwood floors. There are unoccupied classrooms to spare.

But perhaps not for long. With room to grow, the programs are waxing.

Even Start is getting more referrals from other government agencies. Silver Valley High started a junior high program and the school’s population is expected to jump from 50 to 65 students this month as the second study block begins. Concerns about housing high school-age students in the same building with the youngest pupils were totally unfounded, school officials maintain.

“I’ll put the behavior in this building up against any building in the state,” said proud Silver Valley High Principal George Heaton.

A disciplinarian who has gained the trust and respect of his students, Heaton’s third floor halls are quiet. The teens aren’t in contact with the younger students because they use a different exit and entrance. If anything, Bertino added, the alternative high school students are more nurturing with the little ones than any other students.

“They are protective of those kids because they are the sons and daughters of their classmates.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

Tags: education