Vincent preschool aids at-risk kids

Seven 3- and 4-year-olds sat at a little table last week in a building at the Vincent Housing Authority and learned an important skill &045; how to call 911 in an emergency.

&uot;I need help,&uot; said a shy 4-year-old Jackelin Turner holding a phone.

&uot;Good job,&uot; said her proud teacher Gloria McGowan, director of the Vincent Housing Authority’s pre-school.

&uot;It something good for them to learn at this age,&uot; she said of the emergency training.

McGowan and her assistant Cassandra McKinney teach the pre-school which is primarily funded by an &uot;at-risk&uot; grant of $15,000 per year from the Shelby County Board of Education.

The preschool, which meets Monday through Thursday mornings from about 8 a.m.-1 p.m., has 10 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled from the Vincent and Harpersville communities.

The school, which is open to anyone, primarily targets at-risk 3-, 4- and 5-year olds who may need extra attention because of their low-income families or other circumstances.

The grant also helps fund an after-school tutoring program for kindergartners through 12th graders at the Housing Authority, which is located on Highway 83 near Vincent High School.

The tutoring program, held from 3-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, has 15 students enrolled and is taught by director Ann Lankford and her assistant, Darlene Morris.

The Vincent Housing Authority is managed by the Childersburg Housing Authority and governed by a local board of directers.

Mary Williford, executive director of the Childersburg Housing Authority, and Ellen Limbaugh, her executive assistant, oversee the day-to-day activities of the Vincent center and the housing units.

The pair also manages two tutoring programs and a preschool as well as the housing units in Childersburg.

Limbaugh said she applied for the at-risk grant from Shelby County hoping to provide a community service to Vincent and Harpersville.

The preschool and turoring programs were defunct for a while because of lack of funds.

&uot;We have preschool graduation every year and when these students get in school they are usually at the top of their classes,&uot; Limbaugh said. &uot;The parents are pleased with it. Otherwise they wouldn’t keep sending their children here.&uot;

Williford said she is given $70,000 a year from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to maintain and improve the Vincent Housing Authority. For Childresburg, she works with about $400,000.

A maintenance shed at the Vincent center is now a three-room schoolhouse as a result of those funds, she said.

The school includes three computers, a television and video cassette recorder, a large children’s table, 13 donated desks and a boardroom. The five-member board consists of Harpersville and Vincent locals chairman Don Greene, vice-chairman Blanton Moore, Billye Jean Whitlock, Mary Lee Reynolds and Frances McGraw.

To their credit, the Vincent Housing Authority was recently designated as a High Performer, the highest ranking of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The score reflected the authority’s high occupancy rate, managerial skills, physical appearance, fiscal responsibility and resident satisfaction.

&uot;We are proud of the program,&uot; Williford said.

She said she also plans to convert a shed on the property into a recreation area complete with game tables and a basketball hoop.

McGowan said she enjoys her job as a preschool teacher and credited the Authority for its success.

Many times, McGowan and McKinney bring their students on field trips to places like the Birmingham Zoo, the McWane Center and even the Vincent Fire Department.

But most of the time they teach the toddlers important skills like table etiquette and the ABCs.

&uot;I enjoy working with the kids and they enjoy it, too,&uot; McGowan said with a smile.

&uot;It’s a good age. I just like watching them develop and watching how much they care.&uot;