Column: District promotes student success after schoolWORTHINGTON — What do the Worthington Area Learning Center (ALC), District 518 Community Education and the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) have in common, besides being located in the same building — the West Learning Center? They all promote school success by offering youths Out-of-School Time (OST) programming.
By: Jerry Fiola and Nate Hanson, District 518, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — What do the Worthington Area Learning Center (ALC), District 518 Community Education and the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) have in common, besides being located in the same building — the West Learning Center? They all promote school success by offering youths Out-of-School Time (OST) programming.
Recent research has underscored the important role OST activities can play in fostering students’ academic achievement. Even though most students receive approximately 25 hours of direct instruction each week by attending classes during the regular school day, they spend as many hours or more outside of school, particularly when you factor in weekends and vacations. This “spare time,” when used constructively and planned intentionally, can contribute significantly to children’s well-rounded education.
OST learning opportunities are particularly critical for youths who are struggling academically to keep up with their more successful peers. These students can face a variety of personal obstacles in attempting to bridge this education achievement gap. For some, formal schooling has always been difficult, perhaps due to more limited cognitive abilities. Some have been exposed to fewer enrichment experiences (e.g., music, art, athletics, etc.) as a result of their families’ limited income. Other children, in addition to mastering subject content, must also learn English and become familiar with American culture since their families immigrated here from a foreign land; some have even had to endure the bleak conditions of a refugee camp for five to 10 years due to political persecution in their home countries.
Despite these educational barriers, we are convinced that all children can learn, and we are committed to ensuring that all Worthington students will ultimately complete their schooling by earning a high school diploma. Each of the West Learning Center programs provides an important “piece of the puzzle.” The Worthington ALC uses its Targeted Services revenues to fund afterschool instruction in the core academic areas of reading and math. At-risk youths in grades K–8 are taught in small groups by licensed teachers, many of whom are employed as regular classroom teachers during the school day. This arrangement has several distinct advantages. Using existing school staff enables the program to link the afterschool activities with what the children need to learn as part of the regular school curriculum. However, the smaller class sizes enable the teachers to offer more individualized instruction and are also more conducive to hands-on, experiential learning that is not always feasible in the more traditional classroom setting.
To expand and enhance the district’s afterschool program, known as EDGE, District 518 Community Education has secured additional monies from outside sources. With these added revenues, including a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, the same at-risk students receive help with their homework and are able to participate in various enrichment learning activities, including recreation, art, music, science and technology, community service and leadership development. Research indicates that focusing on students’ social and personal skills development, in addition to their own intrinsic value, has a positive impact on their academic achievement.
Given the isolating nature of the refugee camps, oftentimes refugee students have social and emotional needs over and above the basic academics. For the past two years, the Community Education department has received special federal funding to provide additional services for these families.
Both of the aforementioned grants also help to fund another critical “piece of the puzzle” — bilingual parent liaisons. These invaluable staff enable the district to more fully communicate with the students’ parents, engaging them in supporting their children’s education both at home and in school.
The NCIC has established several programs and clubs that older youths can take part in, especially at the high school level. The students strengthen their personal and leadership skills by mentoring younger students, by exploring social justice issues, by becoming engaged in their community through service projects, and by developing future school/career plans.
Working together to provide a continuum of complementary OST learning activities, the West Learning Center Programs have effectively assembled many of the “puzzle pieces” needed to guarantee students’ school success.
Jerry Fiola is District 518’s community education director. Nate Hanson is the director of Worthington Area Learning Center.