The federal 21st century Community Learning Center grant program is supporting after-school activities for students at 107 new sites throughout Wisconsin this academic year.
Delavan-Darien School District received a $500,000 grant, administered through the Department of Public Instruction. It provides $100,000 each year for five years for a CLC site at Turtle Creek, the largest of the district’s three elementary schools.
Academic instruction from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. involves math and reading interventions with students who are performing below grade level. The second aspect focuses on enrichment activities, such as science, technology, fine arts and recreational pursuits, from 5 p.m. to 5:50 p.m.
Thirty-two kids were enrolled as of last week, with an original cap of about 75 students. No kindergartners had been signed up yet, but the program is for children from kindergarten through fifth grade. Students are split into two groups, kindergarten through second grade and third grade through fifth grade.
“That is the number we feel is the most effective for us to see an impact,” site supervisor Michelle Minton said. “We identified the initial group of students, and we need them to show educational gains.”
Evaluation data from the CLC program shows that nearly 39,000 students were served throughout the state during the 2011-’12 school year. About 71 percent of participants demonstrated significant improvement in mathematics and reading. In addition, teacher surveys show that 64 percent of students who regularly attend CLC activities satisfactorily complete and turn in their homework, 58 percent come to school motivated to learn and 54 percent improve their classroom behavior.
Elementary school counselor Katie Kopp said officials are excited and optimistic about the program’s potential because of positive preliminary feedback.
“We heard some students talking in lunch lines and have heard from a few parents who really are excited,” Kopp said. “One concern from parents was that the kids would be too tired and burned out from a full day in school, but the kids seem so engaged. It’s early, but we’ve seen attitude shifts already in some kids in the normal classroom who typically aren’t thrilled about going to school.”
Minton echoed those sentiments.
“One of our student-teachers from UW-Whitewater (Mark Malone), who leads physical education activities, said he already had noticed differences in students during the regular classroom … they were more engaged and happy,” Minton said. “I know the time goes by quickly, but the students appear to love it. I really like how it’s going so far and more parents have shown interest. At first they were worried that the kids are in school too long, but they seem to be leaving energized and bubbly.”
That is an encouraging sign, to say the least, and is the big payoff for folks such as Kopp, who took the lead throughout the application process.
“This has been a passion of mine since coming here about 10 years ago, because I was surprised at the lack of after-school programming in the Delavan-Darien area,” said Kopp, who has been involved with the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Coalition since it started in 2009. “That’s about when the Boys & Girls Club group started taking shape, and I started researching possible grants. The CLC (grant process) is so intimidating because it’s so competitive … they had tried it before and not received the funding. But I authored or co-authored (other) grants through the DPI and got my feet wet first.
“We applied last January and waited for over a year, which allowed us to shape the program, develop community partners and get everything in place, and through this first five-year phase we want to keep building more partner relationships, and we’re hoping to offer future collaborations with the Boys & Girls Club.”
That’s why awareness and creating more community partnerships is vital for growth and long-term success. The district also is seeking more tutors.
One of the local connections has involved the Delavan Parks and Recreation Department, of which Tom Klug has been director since September 2009.
“One component of the grant is recreation, which allows us to offer some of our programming, tutoring and mentoring five days a week,” Klug said. “We get to introduce our programs to many kids we typically don’t serve, to those who can’t fit it into their schedules or those who maybe can’t afford it. It lets us reach a new population of students and people in the community.”
Parks and recreation will offer four weeks of soccer and four weeks of basketball through the first semester and then gravitate to other activities.
“We have a couple of flexible weeks built in to do something different, such as floor hockey, playing tag or other games,” Klug said. “And hopefully at some point we’ll get a local business in to, for example, demonstrate martial arts, to give them different experiences. We’ll use this first year to evaluate everything, and in the future maybe we can partner with other schools in the district.”
That is one of the program’s goals. And a key to achieving it concerns the third component, which still is in development stages, and that’s parent involvement.
Kopp said the school district hopes to address that area more in the second semester and could include English classes to help break down communication barriers and parenting classes through the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
The school district may apply for another five-year grant of $75,000 per year and a third five-year installment that provides $50,000 per year.
Staff members are concentrating on the here and now and seeing progress, while keeping the program’s long-term prospects in mind.
“We have capacity set at 75 for now and may have a waiting list, and we’re sure some kids will rotate out once they achieve success or maybe don’t like it,” Kopp said. “We want to have more sites, create more partnerships and get more volunteers, but we want to do this responsibly and get well-established first, because the idea is sustainability. The students must meet academic goals.”