LAFAYETTE, Ga. - Many children face challenges no one knows about outside their own small world, but some Walker County educators believe they can help simply by being a friend.
The Save One Student program, or "SOS," got its start at Chattanooga Valley Elementary School after principal Jason Pelham came back from a conference with the idea of offering students friendly support that wasn't intrusive or overbearing.
"The main part of the program is really simple," Mr. Pelham said. "At least a couple of times a week, they just go by and check on that kid in class and just try to give them words of encouragement and see how they're doing."
The SOS program "lets (the child) know there's another building besides the kid's teacher who cares," he said.
Chattanooga Valley assistant principal Heather Culberson said that when she watched the movie "The Blind Side" with her husband, LaFayette Middle School principal Mike Culberson, they realized the program could work among middle-schoolers.
The true story focuses on Michael Oher, a virtually homeless teen who is befriended by the Tuohy family and helped to overcome the challenges of a new environment.
Mr. Culberson said he and his wife realized the "background" support depicted in the movie mirrored SOS's intent and made it a perfect program for middle schools.
He said SOS indirectly builds on the school's Renaissance program, which rewards good behavior and improved grades.
But students still can slip through the cracks, he said, and he hopes SOS reaches them.
Each of LaFayette Middle's 130 employees chose at least one child for the program.
Initial support might amount to no more than a "good morning" greeting, Mr. Culberson said, but he hopes the adult and child will bond over time.
Assistant principal Bobby Matheny said SOS takes the Renaissance program's positive reinforcement to the next level by "zeroing in on at-risk kids" and helping them make good choices. Students feel they belong when they believe people have high expectations of them, Mr. Matheny said.
LaFayette Middle's nonteacher staff jumped on board immediately, he said.
Cafeteria employee Mary Ann Walling said the results of SOS are shown in "a lot more 'I love you's,' a lot more smiles."
Cafeteria manager Cheryl Hughes said she took her job 15 years ago to "make a difference" in children's lives, and she finds the link between adults and students rewarding.
And head custodian Brian Whitten said morale is "up tremendously."
Students seem to have more pride in themselves and their school, Mr. Whitten said.