Actress Jennifer Garner on Tuesday played in the gym with students helped by Save the Children programs at Clay County’s Manchester Elementary, read books aloud with them in the library and sat next to them as they learned to recognize their letters.
Garner had come to Kentucky to visit a school where principal Dwight Harris credits the increase in academic achievement largely to Save the Children early childhood, literacy and math programs funded by the annual $200,000 that Manchester Elementary gets from the organization. Garner is a Save the Children board trustee.
Garner said the visits she made Tuesday “remind you that the programs work, they remind you that of the actual kids, one kid at a time, that we are turning into learners and into readers and changing the course of their lives.”
Mark Shriver, Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs and Advocacy of Save the Children, came to Manchester with Garner.
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“The work in Kentucky is really the best we are doing in the country,” said Shriver, the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Save the Children spends about $9.9 million in Kentucky every year in 41 schools in eight counties that serve about 17,617 children. It spends a total of about $1.8 million in all of Clay County’s schools and in school readiness programs for young children, including providing staff and in-kind donations. Garner said Save the Children staff will even go and talk to pregnant mothers about how to create learning opportunities once their babies are born.
The organization receives just about $1 million in state funds, officials said. The administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, asked state agencies to submit plans to offset an expected $200 million budget shortfall this year and add $150 million to the state’s rainy day fund for emergencies. Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt’s proposal, submitted in September, included a $470,700 cut to Save the Children. No decisions have been made by the administration.
Harris, the principal, said he was concerned about what would happen if Save the Children programs suffered cuts. He said those programs are integral to the school from first thing in morning to evening, when there are after-school programs. Harris said that large percentages of children in the academic programs are scoring above the novice level.
Tammy Gibbs, the Save the Children program coordinator at Manchester Elementary, said students from pre-school to sixth grade get both academic help and physical activity through the classes.
Cuts would “hurt our children that are the most needy,” Harris said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who has helped with federal funding for Save the Children programs, and State Sen. Robert Stivers, R- Manchester, on Tuesday walked from program to program at the school with Garner and Shriver. “These programs are entertaining to hold their attention, but productive, and it works,” said Rogers.
“I don’t think it will be necessary to make proposed cuts to this (Save the Children) no matter what the budget scenario is,” Stivers said Tuesday. In 2016, Shriver and Garner went to Frankfort and appeared before lawmakers in the General Assembly to ask them to preserve funding.
“The reason that we are so successful in Kentucky is because there is a partnership with the state,” Garner told the Herald-Leader. “You can’t yank these programs away from kids. The consistency is key.”
“Kindergarten teachers, they tell us that on the first day of school they can see the difference between kids who have been through” Save the Children early-learning programs “and kids who haven’t,” Garner said.