National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks
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National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks

Students In The Little Scholars After-school Program At Isaac School District In Phoenix Build Robots. Photo Courtesy Isaac Elementary School District

Efforts over the past decade to improve Arizona’s afterschool programs have earned the state the sixth highest ranking in a national report released this month.

A focus on reinforcing school-day lessons through fun and enriching learning opportunities and an increase in access to federally funded grants that support them are key contributors.

National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks IsaacLittleScholarsRobotics3

Students in the Little Scholars after-school program at Isaac School District in Phoenix build robots. Photo courtesy Isaac School District

Isaac School District students in the Little Scholars after-school program build Lego robots and powered them through computer workstations.

Students in Prescott Mile High Middle School’s after-school program rehearse lines and build a set for their upcoming performance of “Annie.”

After-school programs like these help kids see the relevance of what they learn in class, develop resiliency, and create the solid social and emotional foundation that academic success is built on, said Melanie McClintock, executive director of Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence.

“Kids are doing more hands-on projects and they’re having their ‘a-ha’ moment about why the teacher taught them that in quality after-school programs,” McClintock said. “Whether it’s using math to build a race car or launch a rocket, it’s a direct application of concepts learned in the classroom.”

Arizona’s after-school programs are ranked sixth in the nation, according to “America After 3 p.m.: Afterschool Programs in Demand” recently released by the Afterschool Alliance.

National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks AfterschoolProgramsArizonaAfter3pm“What sets Arizona apart is the amount of parent satisfaction in after-school programs and their understanding of the value of these programs for their kids,” McClintock said.

But access to after-school programs remains an issue statewide. Nearly twice as many Arizonans would enroll their children in an after-school program if they had access to one, according to the report.

“The problem is greater in rural Arizona, but there are pockets in metropolitan Phoenix where kids don’t have access to programs or those available are not affordable,” McClintock said.

The Isaac and Prescott after-school programs are among more than 215 21st Century Community Learning Centers in Arizona that serve about 70,000 students, said Cindy Trejo, state director of the program for the Arizona Department of Education.

The centers, which provide youth programming after the school day is done, are funded through federal grants, and the Arizona program has received accolades from the U.S. Department of Education.

National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks PMHMSGarden

Prescott Mile High Middle School students work in the Community Learning Center garden on campus. Photo courtesy Prescott Unified School District

“We have changed the culture of after-school in the past 11 years to go from ‘glorified babysitting’ to serious but fun academic intervention and enrichment,” Trejo said. “We’ve always maintained that we have a responsibility to offer both academic intervention and enrichment with a youth development focus.”

School administrators applying for the grant analyze assessment data and target students needing academic support, Trejo said.  Participating students receive math and reading support along with a wide array of youth development and enrichment opportunities, Trejo said.

“A regularly participating student can add the equivalent of 27 school days of instructional support,” Trejo said. “Students who regularly attend afterschool are more likely to volunteer answers during the school day, turn in homework and increase their engagement in school.”

Elementary after-school programs

National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks AfterSchoolProgramBenefitsChartAbout 1,500 students are served each day by after-school programs in Isaac School District in Phoenix, which is in the fourth year of the grant.

“Through the 21st Century grant we are able to provide our students with enrichment and tutoring/intervention opportunities,” said Regina Molina, Isaac’s director of federal programs.

Ten schools provide after-school reading and math intervention and tutoring for students in small groups, and each site serves about 150 students a day, Molina said.

Students can also participate in drama classes, chess club, a car club that focuses on the automotive industry from design to engineering and marketing, and an after-school band program for middle school students with grant-provided instruments.

“With a shortage of arts education funding in Arizona, the 21st Century Grant allows Isaac School District to provide music, performing arts, and visual arts for students,” Molina said.

Students in the Girls Robotic Club work learn about robotics and engineering with Arizona State University representatives, and “have just been asked to showcase their work during ASU’s homecoming,” Molina said.

National report, parents give Arizona’s after-school programs high marks PMHMS21st-Celebration1

Myrna Kurtz tutors students during the after-school program at Prescott Mile High Middle School. Photo courtesy Prescott Unified School District

“The assistance 21st Century Grant provides in helping students is immeasurable,” Molina said. “Through the grant, Isaac is able to provide a safe, learning centered after school environment for students whose families may not have the means to afford these types of paid clubs or programs.”

Community partners like Kohl’s, ASU, Carl Hayden High School, Brophy High School and North West Christian School have been instrumental in some of the after-school programing offered, and Isaac School district continues to develop more partnerships with community businesses and organizations, Molina said.

Kohl’s is a partner in the Get Fit Program where students learn about good nutrition, participate in physical activity and learn about healthy lifestyle choices, Molina said.

“The 21st Century grant allows Isaac School District to expose students to opportunities that allow them to apply the skills they have learned in the classroom in a different setting,” Molina said.

At Miller Valley School in Prescott, all enrolled children take part in math/reading and homework assistance Monday through Friday mornings, and again after school Monday-Thursday with math/reading tutoring and homework assistance followed by an hour of enrichment classes, said Carrie Coughlin, site director at Miller Valley.

“We currently offer enrichment classes such as cooking, sewing, soccer, garden club, tumbling, robotics, mad science, lego club, chess and percussion,” Couglin said. “The kids really enjoy the group learning with our certified staff and engaging enrichment classes.”

About 60 to 80 children are enrolled each day, and Miller Valley has formed partnerships with Food Corp., Farm to School, Yavapai Community Health Department, The Unitarian Church, Couglin said. Love and Logic classes are also offered for parents.

While the Arizona Department of Education sets the structure and framework of the 21st Century program, teachers and administrators “do what it takes for Arizona students to maximize their potential,” Trejo said.

“Our team loves working with our grantees because often they are the teachers on the campus with the biggest heart,” Trejo said. “They work full-time teaching and are willing to stay longer after school.  The results are amazing.”

Middle and high school activities

Many people think after-school care is only for elementary students, but middle and high school students need academic help and enriching, supervised activities too, McClintock said.

Prescott Mile High Middle School in Yavapai County is in its third year of the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, while Miller Valley Elementary School is in its first year, said Shari Sterling, federal programs director at Prescott Unified School District.

“Mile High has seen a huge increase in students’ academic success with this program,” Sterling said.

About 100 students take part in the before- and after-school programs at Prescott Mile High Middle School including tutoring, said Michelle Hoop, community learning center site coordinator at the middle school.

“We are able to offer both academic and enrichment programs,” Hoop said. “We have classes that help our high achieving students as well as students who are struggling with classwork.”

Among the enrichment programs are classes students might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience, including drama, computer coding, creative writing, robotics, cooking, woodworking, Teens Taking Action, Girl Talk, garden club, intramural sports and chess club, Hoop said. An iPad club will be added in January.

“We have partnered with North Star which teaches our Girl Talk and Teens Taking Action classes,” Hoop said. “Boys & Girls Clubs are here every Wednesday to lead our students with intramural activities.”

Students have said they enjoy the extra help with classwork and being with their friends in a relaxed fun environment, Hoop said.

“We are fortunate in the fact that students recognize when they need extra help and continually sign up for our program throughout the school year,” Hoop said.

At San Carlos Unified School District in Gila County, elementary, middle and high school students take part in before- and after-school academic and enrichment activities, said Cheryl Beaver, communications director for the district.

Before school, students can take part in fitness and weightlifting and after school they can participate in AIMS prep in reading, writing and math, algebra and geometry, basketball, art music, Apache language/culture, STEM, robotics beading, healthcare careers, beading, guitar, origami, computer programming, and creative writing and poetry, Beaver said.

Parents are very supportive of the programs, Hoop said.

“One of our upcoming events is Family Fun Night in conjunction with our Title I program,” Hoop said. “Students and parents will work on various projects incorporating reading and writing skills. Some of the projects include cake in a cup, wallet making, pillow and throw making, jewelry projects as well as many other activities.”

As part of their grants, schools develop innovative family engagement strategies that serve about 25,000 family members, Trejo said.

“Many of our grantees are strategic in looking at how parents and other caring family members – adult siblings, aunts, uncles – can join forces to improve at home learning,” Trejo said.

Through a partnership with WestEd’s Dr. Maria Paredes creator of Academic Parent Teacher Teams, grantees have learned how to redesign traditional parent teacher conferences to teach family members how to support classroom learning in order to meet individual student’s academic goals, Trejo said.

Developments in Arizona after-school programs

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence in partnership with Valley of the Sun United Way created committees that developed standards for out-of-school time programs and an assessment tool, and another one is now working on a professional development system for providers, McClintock said.

The standards were developed at the request of providers, parents, funders and policy makers to have a guideline to what quality after-school programs should include and what the return on investment in them is, McClintock said.

“Educators saw the value (of after-school programs), but schools were already being pinched for money,” McClintock said. “Parents saw the value, but the prices of these afterschool programs were increasing.”

A statewide committee of 30, including two school superintendents – one from an urban district and one from a rural district – funders, policy makers and providers – urban and rural, big and small, licensed and unlicensed – developed the standards released a year ago at events in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, McClintock said.

Providers’ response has been overwhelmingly positive, with 12,000 copies of the standards distributed and more than 500 program sites statewide signing up for the Make It Count pledge, McClintock said

“The highest number are in Phoenix, but what excites me is that you’re seeing programs in small towns and places on the reservations sign on to the standards, including Bisbee, Willcox and Patagonia,” McClintock said.

Another statewide committee worked with Dr. Wayne Parker, who recently retired from the Piper Charitable Trust, to develop the Arizona Quality Assessment Tool for Out-of-School Time Programs, McClintock said.

Last week, the free and easy-to-use assessment was sent to 135 providers as a pilot project, McClintock said. Parker will examine their responses in late November, determine any adjustments that need to be made and the assessment will be available in the first quarter of 2015, McClintock said.