After-school programs enrich education

Brewster also offers a place for before-school help

— For hundreds of students across North-Central Washington, their school day doesn’t end when the final bell rings.

After-school programs, typically funded by 21st Century and GEAR-UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grants, offer homework help and enrichment activities.

Many activities are based on what’s called the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum.

The goal is to help students “apply some of the skills and curriculum they’re learning about in the standard classroom, so they can draw upon it in a much more hands-on and fun environment,” said Bob Ashmore, GEAR-UP director for the Tonasket School District. “STEM fields have been traditionally low across the country.”

In Tonasket, 30-35 students per year participate in after-school programs outside of athletics, with 16 students getting academic support at any given time, Ashmore said.

High school students volunteer to mentor eighth- and ninth-grade students who need extra help with core classes, such as math and social sciences.

“Two days a week, they have after-school mentoring with the students, and one day a week they meet with me to discuss what’s working, what’s not working, strategies,” Ashmore said. “Some come in and get their grades up and stop coming, because that was their goal, and others stay through the entire year.”

New this year at Tonasket is the “Women in STEM” program. It will extend into the summer, with plans to connect local professionals with female students, Ashmore said.

“That’s an exciting one that’s in the early stages,” he said. “It’s really designed to raise awareness of our girls in school of the career and postsecondary education opportunities that are waiting for them, and encourage more of them.”

One returning program is Lego robotics, where students build robots to show in competitions. Students competed over the summer at Central Washington University, and the school plans to participate again.

“We know if we get kids excited about Lego robotics, some of them will end up pursuing careers in engineering,” Ashmore said.

Omak School District weaves fitness and arts into its Xtreme Challenge expanded learning program. The overall goal is to incorporate math and science into 75 percent of the classes, and reading and writing into 50 percent, program Director Racie McKee said.

“It is easy to include core academic components in these classes,” she said. “For example, the power-lifting class at the high school has students track progress and nutrition in a journal.”

Music enriches math skills, as has been demonstrated in several research articles. Art classes use journaling and spatial ability is enhanced through drawing.

“We have used reader’s theater materials, which combines reading with drama,” she said. “At the end of the day, kids don’t need more school; they need different school that engages and enables students to experience those ‘aha’ moments where something clicks.”

McKee said some students have gone on to college as a direct result of the program’s business class, which operates the high school’s OP Plaza store.

“Xtreme Challenge is making a difference in student lives,” she said.

Oroville Elementary School’s program offers homework help for both English- and Spanish-speaking students, and community-sponsored football, soccer and basketball. New this year is reading help through AmeriCorps.

About 20 students play football and another 20 are expected for the reading program, counselor Sarah Marlow said.

“Our academic-based programs, like the study program and the reading program, give value because they are providing extra educational support that these specific students need to succeed in school and in life,” she said. “With additional interventions, students who may not be on grade level are often able to make grade level within weeks.”

Athletics provides lessons in teamwork, keeps students active and leads them to new friendships, she said.

Brewster High School opens at 6:30 a.m. for students whose parents may go to work early. The “Befores” program gives students computer access to finish their homework while providing a safe place to go before classes start, Principal Linda Dezellem said.

“We were finding that, throughout our surveys and student-led conferences, only about 50 percent or less of our kids have access to Internet at home and a lot of our assignments are technology-based,” she said.

What’s called the “Afters” program runs from 3-4 p.m. in the elementary and secondary schools, and the “After-Afters” is from 4-7 p.m.

Junior high students can get extra help in their classes, while the library is open to provide computer access. “After-Afters” gives athletes a place to go before an evening game, Dezellem said.

Some programs include Focus on the Freshmen and a discussion group that addresses topics affecting young girls, such as peer pressure. Several clubs meet after school as well, including robotics, Knowledge Bowl, History Club and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

About half of the school’s 400-student population participates in Afters, Dezellem said.

“It’s been great,” she said. “The kids have a safe place to study, they have the technology they need, and those that take advantage of it really do quite well.”

Fifth- and sixth-grade students begin Afters on Monday, Brewster Elementary School Principal Lynette Blackburn said. Fourth-graders will be included later in the month.

“In the Afters program we teach reading and math,” she said.

Once a month, the school invites guide dogs, U.S. Forest Service rangers and Methow Arts Alliance members to give presentations.

In Ferry County, Republic School District hosts the “Cats” after-school program starting Oct. 14 for kindergarten through eighth-grade students. Kindergarteners don’t start until January, paraprofessional Carrie Strauch said.

Academics primarily focus on reading and math, Strauch said. Students can also pick an enrichment activity.

“They love cooking,” she said. Nintendo Wii games and Lego robotics are also popular. The 4-H club offers an all-terrain vehicle training class for older students.

“We want the kids to have ownership in the program and enjoy it,” she said.

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