Doctoral work nets DMS grant

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Many people dream of making history, but Martha McKnight of Demopolis City Schools is doing it, and she’s using that history-making to improve the schools she loves and works for.

McKnight is among the students in the first class of the education administration doctorate program at Alabama State University, and as part of her work for that doctorate, she applied for and was awarded a grant for Demopolis Middle School.

“I had to do an internship, and since I was already here, I decided to do it in Demopolis,” the 28-year-veteran said. “Barbara Hill was working on a grant for Westside for an-after school program. U.S. Jones already has one, so I decided to write the grant for an after-school program here at the middle school.”

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The program is funded through the community education program, and is a 21st Century grant, the same kind of grant that funds the after school program at U.S. Jones Elementary.

“As the school psychometrist, I work with all kids, the gifted students, the mental retardation students and those who are struggling,” McKnight said. “I wanted to design a program where the students who need it could get tutoring or help with their homework, the gifted students could get enrichment but they would all have fun.”

Fun is the key word, McKnight said, noting that students are already in school for eight hours out of the day and would not want to extend that.

“I don’t want it to be like going to school for two more hours a day,” she said. “I want it to be fun, but beneficial.”

Primary goals of the after school program are to provide remediation and enrichment activities for students in grades six through eight.

“We will offer remediation through homework assistance and technology,” she said, adding that as much as is possible, students will work on the computers.”

The name of the new program is as innovative as the program itself, DMS.

“Of course the DMS is Demopolis Middle School, but it also stands for Determined Minds Succeed,” she said.

That is exactly how this program came to be, through the determined mind of Martha McKnight, though she refuses to take credit for the good deed, noting all the people who helped her along the way.

“Dr. (Wesley) Hill allowed me to apply for the grant. Barbara Hill is the community education coordinator, and she provided a lot of support and answered questions for me,” she said. “Mr. (Ronnie) Roberts, being my mentor, answered a lot of questions, as did Booker Barlow, the assistant principal here at the middle school, Clarence Jackson and Linda Agee, custodian of funds for the school system.

“Those people took an active role in helping me,” she said.

Once in place, the program will run Monday through Friday from 3:15 to 5:15 p.m. at the school. McKnight said she hopes to add summer school opportunities for remediation and enrichment as well.

“This is to keep kids off the street and give them options,” she said. “I want to help them look at some career choices and give them a look at what they could be when they grow up, but it will also provide them with leisure activities.”

“Because parent involvement is so important, we are going to offer opportunities for parent involvement through parent activity night,” she said.

In addition to parent involvement, McKnight said she plans to enlist the community as well.

“I’m really excited about the enrichment because we have so many talented people in the community who are willing to volunteer,” she said.

Overall she said she wants people to be happy.

“I want every child and every employee involved in this program to smile every day,” she said. “I want everybody to have a good feeling when they come in and when they leave every day.”

The middle school was not the only Demopolis school to be awarded a grant. Barbara Hill, who McKnight said was working on a grant for Westside, was also awarded a grant.

“Demopolis City Schools has just received notice that they have received two new 21st Century Grant Awards for Demopolis Middle School and Westside School,” Hill said. “We are the only system in Alabama to be awarded grants for all eligible schools in the system.”

The awards are for $125,00 a year for each school for the next three years and are only available for kindergarten through eighth grades. The total for the grants will be $750,000 for the next three years and the funds are to be used for academic and cultural enrichment activities after school. U. S. Jones received the same grant last year of $375,000 for a three-year period.