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Department of Justice awards Little Rock $1 million for violence reduction, community schools

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Daniel Breen
/
KUAR News
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announcing the $1 million grant at Stephens Elementary School, alongside U.S. Rep. French Hill (left) and the city's Chief Education Officer Jay Barth.

Little Rock city officials say a new grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will help cut down on crime through investing in education.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced Monday the $1 million grant will go to the Little Rock School District’s Community Schools Initiative. In a news conference, he also said the funding will help complement other community programs aimed at curbing violent crime.

“Through that community approach, we have what we’re working on with our community schools model, but also the work that we’ve done through the city board to leverage close to $2 million for community violence intervention proposals… to put more dollars on the street to get more organizations involved within the community to continue to help drive down our community violence,” Scott said.

Little Rock Chief Education Officer Jay Barth says the grant will also help fund a program to help address the trauma associated with violent crime and to help build trust between police and the community. He says the funding will go toward hiring two social workers to be based at Stephens Elementary School.

“One will focus primarily on what’s going on inside the school, the other will focus more on the external community but they will work as partners,” Barth said. “Importantly, through a combination of grants and city funds, we are now on the path to having social workers in place at all four community schools in the next couple of months.”

Barth says the city has received over $2.2 million in grants so far to help fund arts-oriented after school programs, food pantries, school gardens and behavioral health programs among others. Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, praised the investment as helping to create safer neighborhoods.

“That involves our police, that involves getting guns off the streets, that involves better jobs," Hill said. "We partner on workforce grants a lot too to try to create a better economic dynamic environment for more of our families, get the skills they need and the work they need to produce the income they need to raise a family in a safe, well-fed, well-educated place.”

Little Rock officials first approved the city’s community schools model in 2019. Chicot, Watson, Washington and Stephens elementary schools currently follow the community schools model, which emphasizes the role of the school as a hub for the community.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.