School — or, in this case, after school — popular with students

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry At the 21st Century Program, students (from left) Madilyn, Mya, and Alex make chewed-gum statues.

For seven years, Warren County School District has offered an after-school program for elementary students.

“It’s a popular program,” Coordinator of Grants and Foundation Development Matt Jones said.

“We survey our parents,” Project Manager Chris Haslett said. “They’re so happy that they can get their homework done. From a parent standpoint, that’s the biggest thing.”

But the program is also popular with kids.

Maybe more for the stuff that happens later, rather than the right-after-school part.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry At the 21st Century Program, students Wyatt (left) and Dustin, make mixed media maple leaves.

“We focus first on homework and academic enrichment,” Haslett said. “Part of the goal is to improve their reading and math.”

A snack is provided courtesy of the National School Lunch Program.

In the summer, students receive both breakfast and lunch.

Then, students are up and out of their seats. “We do a little physical activity,” Haslett said.

And they wrap up each day with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) or an art activity.

“This is a chance for the kids to use their imaginations and not just spew out information,” Haslett said. “Our STEM activities are hands-on. They are not pencil and paper.”

Some of those hands-on activities come out of the ‘Box of Junk.’

On Wednesday, students were practicing some ‘grossology’ by making chewed-gum statues — snails, crocodiles, chainsaws, chameleons, all kinds of stuff.

Haslett’s background in industrial engineering plays well into that kind of activity, Jones said.

“My engineering background really pushes these kids,” she said. “I know how important it is to solve problems.”

They have “safe and structured experiences they might not otherwise get,” Jones said.

“One of the kids’ favorite STEM activities is cooking,” Haslett said.

It is open to all students, but, if the number of applicants approaches the cap, students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program and students who are academically disadvantaged get in first, Haslett said. At the elementary level, “we can take up to 166 kids across the five sites.”

The district has only had 21st Century for middle-level students since 2016.

“We do homework assistance, reading and math, and academic enrichment,” Haslett said. “The focus is STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math).”

So far, the middle-level program does not have the same numbers. Jones said some of that challenge is due to “fighting for their attention with athletics and everything else.”

At both the elementary and middle levels, the staff is made up of professional educators.

“The people that staff those sites are classroom teachers, retired teachers, substitute teachers, and tutors,” Haslett said. “I target certified teachers.”

It is not a tutoring program. The ratio of instructor to student is about 1-to-10 or 1-to-12.

The program is funded through grants.

“The Warren County School District 21st Century Program is funded in full or in part with a grant by the Pennsylvania Department of Education,” Haslett said.

For the coming funding year, there is a new component.

“They came out with competition within a competition funding,” Jones said. “If you have these grants, you can compete for more dollars for drug and alcohol prevention and social and emotional learning programs.”

“We chose social and emotional,” he said. “The idea behind social-emotional learning (SEL) — students are exhibiting behaviors — unable to cope with things that are going on in their lives.”

The program will “help identify and help develop coping mechanisms,” she said.

“It sounds like a good way to start to tackle those issues,” Jones said.

“We’re going to bring some counselors in at each site to work with the kids,” Haslett said. “We’re not going to pull kids from academic time or STEM time.”

Those counselors would probably be invited once a week.

The program also has some community partners. “During the school year, we partner with Family Services of Warren County and Hi-Ed to do parent engagement and or parent education courses.”

Beacon Light comes in “during both the school year and summer and do drug prevention and character education programming,” Haslett said.

The district even helps with transportation.

“We are able to utilize the district’s late activity bus,” Haslett said.

While that system does not go into every neighborhood, it can get students much closer to home than if there were no bus.

There are about 130 students in the program throughout the county. And the students are benefitting.

“There’s a great payoff,” Jones said.

“It’s a great program,” Haslett said.