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Bright Stars takes home youth group’s community grant
20150323-Bright Stars Award 01
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Bright Stars coordinator Ann McAndrew (left) accepts a $10,000 check from members of the Youth Service Award Committee.
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Tim Shea | Monday, March 23, 2015 at 10:13 p.m.

One of Albemarle County’s preschool programs received good news Monday.

Bright Stars — Albemarle’s pre-K program for at-risk 4-year-olds — has been selected for the $10,000 Youth Service Award grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.

In a new program, staff from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education will lead parenting classes for Bright Stars families.

Seniors from Charlottesville’s and Albemarle’s public and private high schools, who comprise the award committee, selected Bright Stars from 12 applications.

The students began meeting last fall, when they identified early childhood education as their area of focus. Joshua Payne, a senior at Tandem Friends School, said the group wanted to fund a program that could help people in need.

“You’ve got to start with the young people,” Payne said. “If you offer people the education that they need to be successful … even when they are 4 years old, that nurturing will definitely help.”

The group selected Bright Stars, Payne added, because its program aligned with the committee’s focus.

“Not only is their new program cost-effective, it was in the right market for what we were looking for,” he said.

Ann McAndrew, who coordinates Bright Stars, expressed her gratitude.

“I want to thank the foundation for the support,” McAndrew said. “I’ve been involved in education in one way or another for a few decades now, and over time I’ve become more and more convinced that if we’re really going to make a difference in the lives of kids who come to us with less advantage, we have to start earlier.”

Bright Stars, which is administered jointly by Albemarle County Public Schools and the county’s Department of Social Services, provides comprehensive social services for 4-year-old preschoolers and their families until the children complete fifth grade.

Now in its 19th year, the initiative serves about 160 students in 10 classrooms at eight schools. Some of those children are funded through Title I and Head Start.

However, as the demand for preschool grows in Albemarle, and as county schools with the greatest needs approach capacity, Bright Stars has seen its waiting list grow to almost 90 in the last two years.

To address this, earlier this month, Dan Rosensweig, president and chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, suggested offering early childhood education in the Southwood Mobile Home Park, which will see between 50 and 75 Bright Stars-eligible children this fall.

This proposal breaks from the existing pre-K model in Albemarle, which has students attend preschool in their home elementary schools. Some elected officials argue that doing so establishes relationships with the school and eliminates a transition that could potentially be hard on the child. Still others say that they are open to creative solutions that will extend preschool services.

Reflecting on his experience, Payne said he’s learned to look at the community differently.

“Before this experience, I thought that there was good and bad,” Payne said. “Now I’m thinking that there’s not really good or bad, there are just people who need help … and what I need to do is go help those people.”

Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, praised the committee.

“What’s great is that there’s so much different talent and so much diversity, and when you put it together, it is one powerful force,” Toscano said. “That is what this program is all about, creating one powerful force that scans all of these great programs and makes a judgment based on debate.”

This is the 21st time the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation has made the Youth Service Award grant.

In addition to the grant, the foundation gave the high school students awards for excellence in leadership, community service and academics.

The students on the committee are: Alli Ambrosini, the Renaissance School; Hannah Backe, Albemarle High; Autumn Diggs, Monticello High; Claiborne Earles, Murray High; Kelly Hancock, Charlottesville High; Joshua Payne, Tandem Friends School; Marta Regn; the Miller School of Albemarle; Hunter Rolph, Charlottesville High; Jacob Sawyer, the Covenant School; Sierra Tisdelle, St. Anne’s-Belfield School; and Keller Whitlock, Western Albemarle High.

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