MES receives special recognition at United Way event and funding for innovative approach

Kathy Bockus/Courier Heather Bell-Williams, left, principal of Milltown Elementary School, and Cathy Halstead, community schools coordinator at MES, recently accepted additional funding and awards from the United Way of Greater Saint John which will be used to extend community-based programs for students and families.

St. Stephen – Programs for kids and families at Milltown Elementary School received special recognition earlier this month, which translated into an additional $19,000 from the United Way of Greater Saint John.

Principal Heather Bell-Williams and community schools coordinator Cathy Halstead both attended what they thought was a United Way event where donors and volunteers for not-for-profit groups which received funding would be thanked.

“It was that, but a little bit more for Milltown Elementary School,” said Bell-Williams with a laugh.

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At the event it was revealed the United Way had surpassed its annual $1.7 million goal and would be awarding the extra funds to various groups, including MES.
Community-based summer literacy and numeracy programs offered by the school received $15,000, which will allow the school to extend them, said Bell-Williams.
MES was also the recipient of the $2,000 Capacity Building award by the Chapman Group, and the $2,000 Demonstrable Impact Award from Adams Green, an accounting group based in Saint John.

“They’re quite remarkable,” is how Bell-Williams and Halstead are described by Wendy MacDermott, executive director of the United Way.

“Their leadership is unparalleled.”
The Capacity Building Award was presented in recognition of how MES focuses on what they’re good at and “keep getting stronger, always improving,” said MacDermott.
The Adams Green Award is presented because the school measures everything it does in its programs, allowing it to dig deep to find out why some things work and others don’t.

“They measure everything they do. They know what works and they stop doing what doesn’t work,” said MacDermott.
MacDermott cited the program MES offers for students in the summer to prevent “summer slide.” The program focuses on literacy and numeracy skills for students during the weeks they are not in school, and is offered in partnership with a summer camp program offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Charlotte County.

She said data collected showed half the students maintain their skills while the other half improved.
“That wasn’t enough for Milltown Elementary School,” said MacDermott. “They wanted to know why the students didn’t improve.”

The files on those students were examined and showed the students who had not improved had missed two or more days of the program. Further investigating revealed the parents of those students were
struggling, so the school looked at how to fix that issue. Programs were established to help build up the parents.

At the same time it was discovered the kids who didn’t improve were struggling at many reading levels below where they should be, so for them to catch up would take a concentrated effort.
MacDermott said that was why the United Way granted more funding to MES to help work on improving those multi-level deficits in reading.

She said the whole summer program at MES is exceptional, and Bell-Williams and Halstead have broken it down, understand what’s happening and created programs to address it and help families.
MacDermott said the United Way is looking at how to scale what MES does with its programs to create similar ideas which might work in other communities.
She noted the MES programs have been adopted in Blacks Harbour.

Bell-Williams said she and Halstead “were excited and thrilled” the MES programs received the recognition and the additional funding. The Parent Wellness Pilot Project at the school has received $50,000 for a two year pilot project and has three year funding of $70,000 a year shared with Blacks Harbour for the literacy and numeracy enhancement camp, the after school program and the Families and Schools Together program.

“The outcome is to support the success of the whole child,” stated Halstead.

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Kathy Bockus
Journalist Kathy Bockus is based in St. Stephen and has worked for The Saint Croix Courier as a general news reporter and feature writer for the past 15 years. She began her lengthy newspaper career in 1974 with a daily in Saint John. Bockus says she always jokes being a reporter is a licence to be nosey, but firmly believes that everyone has a story to tell. She can be contacted at 321-0759.