Houston schools snag $1.16 million in funding for software

jmink@macon.comMay 21, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Growing up in India, Sean Kumar dreamed of an American education.

But when he immigrated to the United States, he soon discovered the obstacles educators face, namely a lack of tools and funding.

“I thought I was heading for excellence,” he said.

So he decided to make a difference. Now, as chairman of the strategic advisory committee of Americans For Schools, Kumar has been instrumental in getting more than $1 million for software in Houston County schools.

The district recently snagged $1.16 million from the Houston County-based organization, which seeks to support educational needs, officials announced Tuesday.

Classrooms in 31 schools will be able to purchase and use software dubbed STRIDE Academy. The software is a web-based program that gives teachers and students online games, videos and other educational tools that are aligned with each classroom’s curriculum.

It gives teachers an additional tool to use in the classroom, and many students also use the program at home. Students can play the games on their own computers in the summer, which is very important, said Traci Jackson, principal of Shirley Hills Elementary School.

“There is a lot of regression we see over the summer with our kids,” she said.

Many classrooms already use similar technology, but funds were drying up until Americans For Schools stepped in. At Westside Elementary School, administrators have doled out $7,500 over two years for a similar type of software, Principal Cynthia Hammond said. Thanks to the financial gift, “it’s free to us for five years,” she said. “It is just wonderful.”

Westside Elementary’s relationship with Americans For Schools traces to a first-year teacher, who struggled to afford materials for her classroom. That’s when Kumar stepped in to help through another organization. As Americans For Schools formed, Kumar’s relationship with Westside continued, and the organization asked the school to kick off its essay competition.

In return, the organization granted the school $2,000 for materials and $500 for the essay contest winners. So Houston County was a natural choice for the organization when it decided to pilot its software sponsorships.

“They certainly have ambitious plans, and I can’t stress to you how grateful we are to be part of that,” Superintendent Robin Hines said. “As we’ve seen over the years, federal and state funds have dwindled.”

The nonprofit organization teams with businesses to raise funds for classroom technology and materials. Co-founder Lee Pickard sees firsthand the effects of a mediocre education at his RV dealership in Byron.

“Seven out of 10 can’t fill out an application. Many can’t do the math to get change from a $1 bill,” he said. “Is it the educators’ fault? I don’t think so. In my company, if people don’t have the tools to do their job, it’s impossible to create a professional product.”

Now, classrooms will have access to software, which educators say is so entertaining that students often are unaware of how much they are learning. Additionally, the money currently being used for such software can now fund other classroom necessities, they say.

“It will be a win-win for us,” said April Strevig, principal of Lake Joy Primary School.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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