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Family support program opening in local schools

Tutoring, family counseling, even backpacks full of groceries will be provided to area middle school students by a new business organization trying to reduce a dropout rate estimated at 30 percent.

Communities in Schools has launched a program called Strengthening Families at Glover Middle School, said the organization’s executive director, Ben Stuckart, and Chase and Cheney middle schools will be added soon.

Strengthening Families focuses on parenting skills and reducing drug abuse and other destructive behaviors. The program is already in use at the American Indian Community Center in Spokane.

Stuckart said his organization will take Strengthening Families to the East Valley, North Pines and Spangle middle schools next month.

Also in November, he said, Rotary and Second Harvest will help provide the backpacks, which will be given to 10 students in each school each Friday. Needy students will be identified by teachers and counselors.

Students will take home the backpacks – each loaded with enough food to feed one child – and bring them back to school Monday.

By concealing the food, Stuckart said, the backpacks help prevent stigmatizing students who might otherwise show up in class distracted by hunger. “We’re trying to meet the basic needs,” he said.

Tutoring will begin next month as well, Stuckart said. A $370,000, five-year 21st Century Learning Center grant received in conjunction with Education Service District 101 will pay for the service at East Valley, North Pines and Spangle.

Communities in Schools will roll out its programs at a public meeting and fundraiser from 6 to 8 tonight at the Lincoln Center, 1316 N. Monroe St.

Costco Vice President Art Jackson will be the keynote speaker. Costco has contributed $100,000 to help pay for the Spokane launch of Communities in Schools, which has more than 200 affiliates nationwide and 12 in Washington.

Stuckart said area businesses are providing financial and in-kind support. In November, for example, a career week will bring representatives from Haskins Steel, Wagstaff and other manufacturers into Glover, Chase and Cheney, and students will visit their plants.