East Lake Elementary School
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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Photo contributed by Causeway

Ten projects intended to help parents transform public education in Chattanooga have met this year's Causeway Challenge.

Causeway, a nonprofit social entrepreneurship program, announced it will award $3,000 to each of the projects, including a proposed "boot camp" to jump-start children's learning experiences and bilingual reading and dinner parties. The projects will be rolled out over the summer and fall.

A community panel of six judges reviewed nearly 60 applications received in response to the challenge.

"We believe any person in any part of our community with an idea for social change should have access to the resources, tools and guidance they need to act on that opportunity," said Abby Garrison, Causeway's executive director.

The Causeway Challenge is a way for the organization to help community leaders without access to financial support to develop prototype programs, said Chelsea Conrad, director of community engagement for the agency.

Causeway serves as a bridge between these leaders and greater funding opportunities for their ideas, Conrad said.

"It allows them to demonstrate a proof of concept and show that their projects are sustainable in the long run," she said.

Causeway will help the winners with advice, connections and coaching, Conrad said. The organization will match up project leaders with mentors, spread word of their community initiatives and make connections for future growth.

Winner Rebekah Griggs, a parent coordinator at East Lake Elementary, voiced enthusiasm for launching her project, "Books over Dinner."

"It is a way to equip parents with feeling comfortable about helping their kids at home," Griggs said.

Her plan calls for potluck dinners at the school meant to inspire parents to read aloud to their children every day for 20 minutes and create an welcoming environment for the families of the Hispanic children who make up 45 percent of East Lake Elementary's student population. Families will receive bilingual books and tools to inspire reading habits at home and boost student literacy and performance.

Even if Spanish-speaking parents do not read to their children in English, it is still important they enrich their children's vocabulary in their native language, Griggs said.

The other Causeway Challenge winners include:

- Gabriel Trujillo and "Amistad," an Orchard Knob Middle School acculturation counseling program for Latino male students.

- Katie Smith and "Chattanooga School Guide," a one-stop online resource for helping families understand their options on deciding where to send their children to school.

- Joyce Hardaway and "It's Friday Night, It's Fun Night!" which brings Hardy Elementary families together for student performances, board games and learning exercises.

- Becky Cox and Stacey Barton with "Kindergarten Readiness," which prepares students for kindergarten at Red Bank Elementary.

- Latanya Mason, Debbie Kelley and Jennifer Gherke with "Parent Academy," that introduces Barger Elementary parents to educational games, apps and accountability practices.

- Katie Neil, Kathy Cooley and Erin Hayden with "Parent Involvement 1:1," which trains Harrison Elementary parents to assist students with school-issued iPads.

- Luronda Jennings and Jean-Marie Lawrence with "RightsNow," a series of interactive workshops for parents with children with disabilities.

- Melissa Jo Brassel and 22:6 Teen Moms Club with "Scholars of Tomorrow," a program to help teen mothers engage in their children's learning experiences.

- Nicholas Goebeler and "Summer of the Lorax," a reading program event based on the "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss for Eastside Elementary.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or