Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for February 18, 2005

This article appeared in today's Southern Illinoisan...



Charles Rodriquez of Southern Illinois University Carbondale Flight Technologies helps Jenna Meadows, 8, learn the controls on a small flight simulator donated by the Boeing Corp. to the Cairo Community Education Center.

CAIRO -- Community members didn't want another empty building sitting in Cairo, especially a former school.

Yet that was the case for roughly 18 months, said Cairo School Board President Joe Griggs.

"We had to close this building, because we didn't have enough money to get it up to spec," Griggs said. "So, we closed it not knowing what we would do with it."

What they eventually did is turn it into the Cairo Community Education Center.

Griggs recalled the former Cairo Junior High School's unfortunate past in the middle of its cafeteria, which Thursday was renewed with the type of lunch activity it once saw.

Of course, the people in it this day were adults there for the facility's open house and ribbon cutting ceremony. But Regional Superintendent Dan Anderson, whose district covers Cairo, has plans to fill it with children again.

The idea, Anderson said, is to have children running a restaurant service, a mock business to teach them the ins and outs of business ownership.

It is one of the many ideas floating around a sprawling building with plenty of space and opportunity.

The Cairo school district is leasing the building to the Regional Office of Education. The office, in turn, has been running the facility since November, and it has brought in a number of education-based tenants.

One of those tenants is Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

John C. Davis is the director of the Saluki Kids Academy, an outreach program the university's College of Education and Human Services started to boost at-risk students drive for learning.

"We started working with the Cairo district three years ago," Davis said. "We brought kids from Cairo to campus during the summer and did some activities with them there."

When SIUC learned the district vacated the junior high school, Davis said the university offered its services to help continue a community-wide support for education.

Graduate students now offer after-school tutoring programs for children in the Cairo school district, Davis said.

The work graduate students do correlate with the education research they do on campus. Anderson said the volunteer service also helps the Cairo school district meets its supplemental support program requirement under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Facility features offer learning exercises far beyond the normal scope of a young student's curriculum, however. One room on the second floor of the building held a child-size flight simulator, designed and donated by Boeing to SIUC for children's outreach purposes.

Anderson said students learn how math and science are applied in the field of aeronautics. The lesson culminates with a test flight in the cockpit simulator.

The third floor houses programs for adult education, including a nurses assistant course and the adult literacy program, Even Start.

The building has come a long way in the past year, Anderson said. While much of the building still needs aesthetic work, he is glad the district was able to save the structure from falling into complete disrepair.

"It is unbelievable how fast it went down," Anderson said, describing the short time the building was empty. "Vandalism had already started, with a few broken windows."

The community successfully took back the building, something parent Gloria Meadows and her 8-year-old daughter, Jenna, were glad to see.

"These programs are important for our community," Meadows said. "Cairo has a population that is 80 percent black, and with the job market today I think our students need opportunity to get an education."

National Education Association President Reg Weaver was on hand Thursday to meet educators, parents and students. He praised the community for its work.

"Anytime you have a place for kids, adults to have access to educational opportunities it's all good," Weaver said.

The money for education sometimes isn't what it should be, he said.

"It never really was what it should have been, but now it's even more challenging for Illinois and other states in terms of education funding," Weaver said. "The travesty is, while there is a lack of education funding, there has not been a lessening of accountability and expectations." 618-529-5454 x15090