Looking back at a grassroots education action that led to bigger things
By Ellen Adams, Rosa Crocker, Jan Makela and Kathryn Treanor
Can you guess what grassroots movement started in 1993 was responsible for the creation of several new and important programs in Rappahannock County’s public schools? The First Thursday Education Support Group, started by Ellen Adams, Rosa Crocker, Susan McCarthy and Kathryn Treanor began as a monthly gathering of parents, teachers and often school board members.
Recognizing that folks bring different points of view and talents to the table while sharing a common agenda of supporting the best educational opportunities for our students, the group had one motto: Come prepared to work for constructive change (and, oh yes, “no whining”). The mission was to improve communication between the school system and community, encourage citizen dialogue with the school board and engage the public in promoting better schools.
The group soon identified the need for volunteer help in local classrooms and Jan Hackley Makela was hired for the position in 1994 and coordinated as many as 150 volunteers each year who did everything from tutoring to computer room monitoring and more.
First Thursday folks recognized the need to support teachers in providing more frequent, robust educational activities related to classroom learning, and in 1995 the Curriculum Enrichment Program (CEP) was launched with two assemblies. This volunteer run effort has provided access for thousands of RCPS students to an array of year-round learning opportunities, including field trips, student competitions and performances, assemblies, classroom workshops, guest teaching residencies and more. CEP, now administered by Headwaters along with the Mini-Grants Program, has been renamed Educational Enrichment Grants
In 1996 the folks at First Thursday began investigating the potential rewards that a public education foundation could bring to Rappahannock County. A steering committee was formed for the Rappahannock County Public Education Foundation, which in early 1997 was incorporated, adding the name, “Headwaters”.
Also in 1997, community members, Lois Manookian and Judy Tole created the Starfish Mentoring Program. These trained volunteers provide one-on-one mentoring for RCPS students between the ages of 6 and 17. This program is now one of five major programs that make up Headwaters. Headwaters is now about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
So, next time somebody asks you about the First Thursday Education Support Group, you’ll be able to tell them what a long-term difference it made for Rappahannock county students. Or, as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”