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Column: 21st century grant has served many

By SHARON JOHNSON, District 518

WORTHINGTON — For the last five years, District 518 Community Education has managed a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant. The goals of the 21st CCLC programs are to prepare participants to be productive adults, increase participants’ school connectedness and improve participants’ academic performance.

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In Worthington, implementation of the 21st CCLC grant has been a collaborative effort. The four key partners include: District 518 Targeted Services, Worthington Area YMCA, Nobles County Integration Collaborative and Community Education. These organizations have worked to maximize opportunities and resources while reducing the duplication of effort and expenses. Consequently, a wide variety of out-of-school-time programs have been consistently offered to referred kindergarten through 12th-grade students both during the school year and the summer.

EDGE is an after-school program designed to assist students in kindergarten through grade eight who are struggling academically or who need additional English language exposure. EDGE takes place Monday, Tuesday and Thursday immediately after school until 5 p.m. EDGE classes are taught by licensed teachers, and approximately 12 students are in each class. During the after-school program students learn the same concepts that are taught during the day, but they are engaged in different ways and have additional time to practice and understand the concepts. Teachers incorporate experiential learning, enrichment opportunities and 21st century skill development into their lessons. Some examples of after-school lessons include building balloon cars or making sock puppets and using them for number munchers. Middle school students have the opportunity to participate in art, cooking and technology trainings, also. A small portion of time is also allocated for students to complete homework.

The 21st CCLC also offers programming to high school students in collaboration with Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC). These programs meet weekly throughout the school year and focus more on the 21st CCLC goal of preparing participants to be productive adults. Summer opportunities like college visits and service-learning opportunities are also planned.

The 21st CCLC grant and Targeted Services collaboratively fund the EDGE Summer School program. EDGE Summer School takes place at Prairie Elementary and Worthington Middle School, Monday-Thursday, 8:00 a.m-1:30 p.m. for the month of June. Summer School is designed as an intervention to help students’ master concepts that were introduced during the prior school year and also to reduce the amount of regression in language and literacy skills over the summer break. Community partners for the EDGE Summer School program include Worthington Area YMCA, Girl Scouts, Community Garden, NCIC and AmeriCorps.

As a result of the 21st CCLC grant, more than 500 local students have participated in out-of-school-time learning opportunities each year for the last five years. During the 2012-2013 grant year: Prairie Elementary EDGE served 423 students, middle school EDGE served 315 students and the high school program served 165 students. More than half of these 903 students attended 30 or more sessions. According to teacher surveys, completed by school-day teachers, 85 percent of the EDGE students who attended 30 days or more improved their academic performance in class in the year 2012-2013. We are confident that participants in this year’s program are meeting outcomes as well.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the students who invest additional time in their education by participating in 21st CCLC sponsored programs. I also want to express appreciation to the faculty and staff members who work additional hours October through April and in June to help students learn and develop relevant skills. The 21st CCLC Coordinator is Kelsey Hubert, and the Worthington Middle School EDGE site manager is Andrea Derynck. They both contribute to the success of the 21st CCLC programs and the growth and development of participating students.

In conclusion, Community Education has submitted a grant application for another three years of 21st CCLC funding. The new cohort of funding requires additional hours of service per year. If obtained, the grant-funded programs would be expanded to include non-school days, summer day camps, and Saturday morning opportunities. Minnesota Department of Education will notify applicants in May 2104 regarding which sites will be awarded funding for the next three years.

Sharon Johnson is District 518’s community education director.