Like most Johnston schools, South Smithfield Elementary is a ghost town in summer. But last week, the schools courtyard was full of volunteers who helped get the campus ready for the coming school year.
Principal Carla Taylor watched as 11 employees of Belk in Smithfield painted a picnic table and put together bookshelves. One employee painted colorful circular patterns on small canvases that will become a mural in the main hallway.
Kathy Grant, office manager at Belk, said employees were volunteering their time as part of the companys 125th anniversary. The department store often helps schools eligible for Title I funding federal money set aside for low-income schools.
We pick based on need, and we wanted to do something fun and colorful for the kids, Grant said as employees put the finishing touches on the picnic table.
Taylor said teachers would appreciate the bookshelves. Teachers do not ever have enough shelves, she said.
Taylor said her school, like many in Johnston, relies heavily on donations of time and materials from local businesses.
Wal-Mart, she said, is the biggest single contributor, giving $1,000 to $2,000 annually. South Smithfield also has a benefactor in Rack Room Shoes, which donates kids shoes to needy families.
Other businesses and churches around Smithfield contribute to school-supply drives throughout the year, Taylor said.
Those supply drives are important to schools because they help cover unforeseen needs, Taylor said. The school system gets its funding and sets its budget early in the school year, but it can be hard to predict enrollment growth, she said.
As new students move in, they might not have school supplies, Taylor said. And they werent covered in the allotment.
Taylor said the school systems funding is usually adequate, but having supplies in reserve comes in handy. Providing for students would be a lot harder, she said, without community support.
We could get by for sure but its always good to have extras, Taylor said.
School starts this month
The help last week was timely. South Smithfield is one of two Johnston schools that uses a modified year-round calendar; West Smithfield Elementary is the other. That means students will fill up the hallways again July 22; teachers will report July 15.
Students at South Smithfield and West Smithfield return to school a month earlier than their peers elsewhere in Johnston, but they have breaks, called intercessions, between every nine weeks of school.
Robin Little, the school systems chief personnel officer, said the two schools offer students extra help during the intercessions.
We use that time for remediation, for expansion of the curriculum, that we feel like has really had an impact on the children, Little said.
Because of changes to the states school-calendar law, South Smithfield and West Smithfield almost had to give up their year-round calendars and the helpful intercessions. But Johnston tweaked its school calendar, and the two elementary schools got a reprieve.
Taylor said she was relieved her school was able to keep the progress it has made since making the switch to year around. Students on a traditional school calendar can forget what theyve learned over the summer, she said. But at South Smithfield, the regression rate or the percentage of students who enter a new school year behind their current grade level fell from 32 percent three years ago to 12 percent last year, the principal said.
It used to take nine weeks just to get back to where we were, Taylor said. Now we get back (in class) and keep moving forward.