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100 students at this Columbus school eat dinner for free — thanks to the United Way

Principal shares story of how one United Way agency helps meet a pressing need in her school.

Yvette Scarborough, principal at Fox Elementary School in Columbus, shares a story Thursday at the 2018 United Way Campaign Kickoff about challenges facing the her students and how the Boys and Girls Club helps meet a critical need for the students.
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Yvette Scarborough, principal at Fox Elementary School in Columbus, shares a story Thursday at the 2018 United Way Campaign Kickoff about challenges facing the her students and how the Boys and Girls Club helps meet a critical need for the students.

Before the 2018 campaign goal was announced Thursday, several United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley partners shared stories about the nonprofit organization’s impact. Perhaps the most memorable — certainly the most graphic — came from Fox Elementary School principal Yvette Scarborough.

“Demography is not our destiny,” Scarborough told the approximately 900 United Way supporters in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center ballroom. “. . . The things that you’re doing in the community for our school, the things that we’re doing, partnering with you guys, it’s changing the destiny of our neighborhood, of our school and, ultimately, Columbus and the world.”

Then she offered proof.

Serving what Scarborough called the poorest neighborhood in town, where crime is high and school-readiness is low, Fox educates children with “vocabulary and social-skill deficits that are two or three years behind what maybe our personal children here would have,” she said.

Even after Fox teachers help their students make up those deficits, they must continue to deal with problems resulting from disadvantaged homes.

For example, one day last school year, Scarborough heard screaming in the hallway. A second-grade boy was standing against a wall, with “a pool of vomit around him,” she said.

The academic dean was trying to comfort him. The boy repeatedly screamed, “I want my . . .” — but the dean and Scarborough couldn’t understand the last word.

“The word started with an ‘M’ but didn’t much sound like ‘mom,’” she said.

A teacher, with the compassionate reputation as “The Kid Whisperer,” arrived to assist.

“She bent down and tried to talk to him, and I’m going to find his mama’s number to get her up here,” Scarborough said. “As I come back, he has reached down into the pool of vomit to pull out the chunks of meat. And at that point, we realized he was screaming, ‘I want my meat.’

“He was hungry. He knew when he went home . . . he wasn’t going to get another meal. As soon as we realized and said, ‘Buddy, we’ll get you another tray from the lunchroom,’ he stopped. Those are some of the needs we have.”

And an organization that receives United Way funding helps to address those needs.

Last school year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley started an after-school program at Fox, the club’s only program at a school in the Muscogee County School District. So now, all of the approximately 370 Fox students not only receive free breakfast and lunch, but the roughly 100 club participants also receive a free dinner, in addition to the help with schoolwork and life skills.

The reading scores from the 2017-18 school year show the club significantly improved student achievement. Understanding that an average year’s worth of growth for a student is 100 points on the Lexile scale, Scarborough cited the following results:

Third-graders who attended the after-school club averaged a 270-point growth; those who didn’t attend averaged a 169-point growth — the difference being an entire year’s worth of growth.

Fourth-graders who attended the after-school club averaged a 182-point growth, those who didn’t attend averaged a 120-point growth.

Fifth-graders who attended the after-school club averaged a 135-point growth; those who didn’t attend averaged a 115-point growth.

All of which means the Fox teachers improved their students’ reading levels by more than an average year’s worth of growth — and the club partners boosted them even more.

“So it’s working,” Scarborough said, “and it’s supporting the things we’re doing every day.”

In his appeal to the crowd, 2018 campaign chairman Randy Burt referred to the boy reaching into his vomit and screaming for meat.

“I want that story Dr. Scarborough told to be a distant memory in our community, because we’re better than that,” said Burt, the district manager for Publix. “Are we better than that?”

The crowd applauded.

“Now, the call to action,” Burt said. “. . . We can make a huge difference, and we can win together.”

Then, joined on stage by United Way chapter CEO Scott Ferguson, Burt announced the 2018 campaign goal is $7 million.

Last year’s campaign, chaired by Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith, surpassed its $6.9 million goal by raising $6,939,736.

The United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley funds 56 programs at 28 nonprofit agencies in Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Stewart, Talbot and Taylor counties in Georgia and Russell County in Alabama.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

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