Monday, February 27, 2017

Value of After School Learning Centers in Local Schools

  After school learning centers offer a safe, supervised and comfortable environment for students to get additional help with their academic work after the normal school day ends. This help includes homework, classwork, or school project assistance. But the after school program isn’t all about academics.  Before homework or tutoring, each student receives a snack, which is often supplemented by nutritional activities throughout the week. The second hour offers enrichment programming designed to broaden the students’ educational experience.  

 The importance of these programs for the student is clear but an additional value is for the families where both parents, or a single parent, are working to support the family. It is a huge benefit for them to have a safe, supervised place for their children to go to work on homework, receive tutoring, and enrichment programming. Students have expressed how great it is to go home with little or no school work, leaving them more time with family or other outside activities.  Parents have expressed that the After School Program has greatly diminished the homework battle in their home.  

Maine 21st Century After School Programs in the local area are offered at the Houlton Southside School for grades 3-5, The Hodgdon Mill Pond School grades K-6, The Hodgdon Mid-High School grades 7-12, and in Stacyville at the Katahdin Mid-High school grades 7-12. These grants were all written by Maine Family Resource Center in Danforth, ME in collaboration with the school districts. The grants are offered for a 5-year period with the first 3 years being fully funded and the 4th & 5th years having incremental reductions.

The Federal government reauthorized 21st Century Funds for After School Learning Centers in 2002 and moved the administration of the grants to the individual state education agencies. The services the grants provide include academic enrichment activities that can help students meet state and local achievement standards. They also provide additional services designed to reinforce and complement the regular academic program, such as: drug and violence prevention, counseling, art, music, and recreation programs, technology education, and character education programs.  Each site offers different activities; students may learn sewing, woodworking, fly fishing, or participate in horsemanship.  Educational opportunities, such as literacy and related educational development services, may also be provided to the families of children who are served in the program. 

 While the grants fund a substantial part of these programs it still takes additional fund raising, volunteers, partners, fees and district in-kind support to fully operate these programs. This is true for the entire five years of the grant but, becomes even more important in the 4th & 5th year when grant funding diminishes.

The Houlton Southside After School Program serves about 45 students per day and is in the third year of its present grant cycle.  Southside runs an invitational program, based on standardized test scores.  Many would like to see this program take in more students, but it is running at full capacity with 60 students enrolled. Another funding source would be required to increase the number of students served.  Besides the academic focus, this site tries to expose students to cultural events they would not otherwise see, i.e. live theater, museums in Boston, and numerous science fairs and events outside of the district.  They are very active in outdoor education through geocaching, biking, walking, and snowshoeing.  This staff has been highly motivated by the Coordinator, Suzann Lawlor and the district has generously supported their efforts.

Hodgdon has two sites, one at Mill Pond and the other at Hodgdon Mid-High School.  Together they serve approximately 55 students per day.  These sites are also in their third year of a five-year grant cycle and both run an open program for all students.  Standardized test scores indicate what students are targeted through the program.  Like Southside, Mill Pond has provided an After School Program under the 21st CCLC/MFRC umbrella for many years. The Middle and High School Program started under this funding in 2014.  Each site has had its highlights with programming events ranging from Health and Wellness Fairs to biking in Bar Harbor to White Water Rafting Trips at the end of the regular school year.  This year the programs will perform the play “Charlie Brown” and a presentation of “Circus Smirkus”.  The broad age range of these students has allowed opportunities for peer mentoring.  Many teachers have volunteered their time and Title I has contributed toward staffing.  Both coordinators, Lori Lenentine and Jessica Stubbs, agree that they are very supported by the district and their staff.  

All three of these sites seek to form additional partnerships with businesses, organizations, parents, and members of the community.  The T&S Market in Hodgdon, Hogan Tire, Houlton Regional Hospital, Big Rock Ski for Life in Mars Hill, State police and local fire and police departments, Linneus Rec, the local band of Maliseet Indians, Aroostook County Action Program and the Cooperative Extension are just some of their present partners.  Private partnerships have also been formed between parents and other generous individuals who have donated goods, time, or given money.

The Katahdin Mid-High After School Program is in the first 8 months of a 5-year grant and serves about 10 students per day. They anticipate this number to grow to about 40 students per day by next year.  The rural location of this site makes it unique compared to other sites.  The Katahdin School, in Stacyville, ME, has provided the After School Program with its own space, allowing room for academic study as well as many activities, including a donated pool table.  The area itself lends to outdoor opportunities, which the program plans to develop over the next four years.  This site has a growing list of partnerships.  Mount Chase Lodge did a very successful fund raiser for them. Richardson’s Hardware & Garden Center, Ellis Family Market, Katahdin Trust, The Red Moose, Patten Rec. Dept., Cooking Matters for Teens, and Big Rock Ski Center have also contributed in different ways. In addition, the program Coordinator, Eryn Schmidt, stated “The Katahdin teachers and school staff have been very supportive of the After School Program by volunteering their time and expertise for the benefit of the students”.

 The After School Programs are always looking for additional partners, donors and volunteers and it is crucial to their survival. Partners might provide free or discounted rates for their services, supply materials or goods for free or at reduced prices, or they may offer to do a presentation on their area of expertise. Volunteers can assist with a multitude of tasks related to the after school activities.

 If you are interested in helping one of these After School Programs, please contact the Maine Family Resource Center @ 207-448-2383. Helping to support student education is a very rewarding experience and everyone deserves a reward in life.

Monday, October 5, 2015

What are 21st Century Community Learning Centers

In July 2014, Maine Family Resource Center (MFRC) was awarded a five year grant to provide hands-on, engaging, and relevant extended day and summer programming at Houlton Southside School, Hodgdon High School, and Mill Pond School through the establishment and continuation of 21st Century Community Learning Centers.  These programs are better known as the After School Programs (ASP). 

Now in the second year of their grants, these After School Programs continue to provide opportunities for students to work on their homework assignments, engage in fun activities that build social/emotional skills, promote physical movement, extend the school day learning through enrichment activities (such as science or technology programs), while stimulating family and community involvement.  Students travel to visit museums and attend theatrical performances, learn about healthy eating and safety in all areas of life, and engage in community service.  

Maine Department of Education states that "the purpose of Maine's 21st Century Learning Centers program is to establish or extend academic support and enrichment opportunities...linked to the local School Administrative Units (SAU's)...aligned with the system of Maine Learning Results."  These centers must provide a "range of high-quality services to support student learning and development, including tutoring and mentoring....  The use of funds is to provide help students, particularly students who attend low-performing schools.  The purpose is to offer a broad array of additional services, programs, and activities, such as youth development activities, drug and violence prevention programs, counseling programs, art, music, and recreation programs, technology education programs, and character education programs, that are designed to reinforce and complement the regular academic program of participating students."

District 70 in Hodgdon runs their two programs as "all inclusive," all students K to 12 may participate.  Houlton, District 29 (grades 3-5), focuses only on those students who are low performing, as determined by standardized test scores.   Grant monies are designated for these low performing students.  However, Hodgdon District has chosen to budget money so that all of their children may attend and receive the benefits of the ASP.

Previously, ASP's were designed as a safe place for students to spend their out-of-school time.  Now 21st Century Learning Programs have built on the "safe place" foundation, adding an intensive drive to see students improve academically, grow socially and emotionally, and develop realistic goals for their future.  MFRC wants to see students leave their programs with a sense of responsibility, a confidence that allows them to try new tasks, and a knowledge of their place in the world around them.