As long as money is available, no child at Brainerd High School will have to leave that school because his parents can't pay rent or utilities.
The Maclellan Foundation is working with more than a dozen agencies in a pilot program to improve Brainerd students' lives. If the program is successful, the Maclellan Foundation hopes to draw federal and local government support to improve inner-city schools throughout the city.
The Maclellan Foundation has contributed $125,000 over the past two years to make sure Brainerd students in 83 families remained in their homes and in school.
"Whatever it takes to get them through school is what we're looking to accomplish," said R.H. "Scott"Maclellan, president of the R.L. and K.H. Maclellan Foundation.
"We don't intend to stop funding," said Maclellan. In fact, he hopes to expand the program. "We want the community to have opportunity to support it, and we want the city to buy in."
Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries who coordinates the rent and utility assistance program, said free access to attorneys, disability navigators, furniture and clothing, mentors and assistance for eye and dental health also can be made available.
Stabilizing those families also helps stabilize students at Woodmore Elementary, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Dalewood Middle schools because many students at Brainerd have siblings enrolled at those schools, said Al Chapman, president of Front Porch Alliance, the agency that coordinates other agency support.
"Our goal is to keep kids in school," said Chapman. "To keep them from getting evicted."
If students are worried about where they're going to sleep or get their next meal, they don't do as well in school, said Brainerd High Principal Uras Agee.
"If you can't do your homework because you're in the dark, it's going to affect you," he said.
Ninety-eight percent of the 650 students attending Brainerd get reduced-price or free lunches, a common measure of poverty. If people can't pay for a meal, they may have trouble paying rent and utilities, Agee said.
He said he believes the efforts are paying off.
He has set a goal to see a 10 percent improvement in academic subjects like math, English and science by the end of the year.
He said he also has set other goals, including having no one in the school have to repeat a grade and getting vocational training at the school.
Agee expressed his optimism to foundation representatives who recently visited Brainerd High.
"We're on a quest to be the best, and we expect success," he said.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@times freepress.com.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...