ATLANTA – Five school districts in rural Georgia will receive $20,000 grants to pilot innovative educational programs, the state Department of Education announced Thursday.

The Clay, Crisp, Dooly, Macon, and Sumpter county school systems will get grants from the nonprofit Georgia Foundation for Public Education (GFPE) funded through a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit program.

The five school districts were among school systems located in counties with populations of 35,000 or fewer invited to participate in a series of workshops that guided them through the process of developing innovative programs. Following the workshops, districts were given an opportunity to apply for the pilot program.

“The Georgia Foundation for Public Education is so proud to support these five districts and the innovative projects they have planned to expand educational opportunities for their students,” GFPE Executive Director Paige Pushkin said.

“These grants will fund creative, meaningful, and much-needed programs for students in rural Georgia. I can’t wait to see all that is accomplished.”

The Clay County School District will use the grant money to launch a mentoring program for third- through fifth-grade male students, a group that data found lacking in robust vocabulary usage, which hinders reading comprehension.

The Crisp County School District plans to open an early learning academy at the local elementary school to help young students recover from the learning loss they suffered when child-care centers were forced to close during the pandemic.

In Dooly County, the school system will use the grant to boost its academic rewards system to incentivize students who, in some cases, have been found to lack motivation. Students at the gifted level, those with perfect attendance, and selected “students of the month” will take part in monthly field trips to local businesses to gain career exposure.

The Macon County School District will launch an intervention program for at-risk students entering the ninth grade. The program will feature a mentoring component through which students will participate in college and industry visits.

The grant to Sumter County Schools will fund a program geared for faculty and staff members, following a recent survey that found many showing signs of decreased job satisfaction and burnout. A mental health and wellbeing space will be designated at each of the district’s five schools, featuring calm lighting, comfortable seating, and exercise equipment.