Helman Elementary School beat out 20 other Jackson County organizations to win a one-time grant from the Soroptimist Club of $12,500 that will fund programs to bolster math and science education for girls.




The Soroptimist's Strong Girls/Strong Women program, slated to begin next fall, will pair community members as monthly lunch buddy mentors with second- and third-grade girls and fund after-school classes for older girls on science, math and the environment, with field trips to meet women in different professions. The school will also purchase books with strong female characters for kindergarten girls.




"We're very grateful for the money, but we're also very grateful to be teaming with an organization like the Soroptimists," said Jennifer Egan, a child development specialist at Helman who, along with Principal Susan Hollandsworth, helped develop the proposal.




They hope to survey the girls before and after the program to track their enthusiasm for math and science, self-esteem and attitudes about their future. The program will encourage girls to think about attending college, Hollandsworth said, and those who are less involved with school activities will be especially encouraged to participate.




"Whenever we have children feeling they belong, it changes our whole school atmosphere," Egan said.




The money for the grant was accumulated over several years, left over after the Soroptimists Club's annual grants to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and other area nonprofits. The Helman proposal was chosen because it addressed the club's six areas of service, including health, education, human rights and the environment, said the club's president, Sara Brown, who presented the check at the school board meeting Monday night.




"These girls are at such an important age to do this kind of work," Brown said. "We're hoping that other elementary schools might look to this as a pilot project for their girls."




Another similar grant will not be made for several more years, she said, but the school plans to look for alternate funding to continue the program past two years.




Although the program is for girls only, it was not meant to be prejudiced against boys.




"We all feel a little bit bad about that, but this is how the money came in the door," Egan said, noting that other organizations fund programs specifically for young boys.




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