After-school program gives students something extra ‘special’

Photo submitted to the Times Observer Participants in the Warren County School District’s 21st Century grants program are pictured during an environmental studies outing.

It’s not like the regular school day. How could it be? There are currently 139 elementary and middle-level students in the district staying nearly three hours longer four days a week.

Students are exploring starting a recycling program at Beaty, or using recycled material to make arts and crafts. Others are cleaning up pollution at and around their school. Others are planning to start a school podcast with special guests. Others are learning how to pre-program a drone. Some just need a little extra help with their homework.

“I like this program because we get to go outside and I learned something at the same time,” said Izayah Anthony, a sixth grader at Beaty Warren Middle School.

With the extra time, “most of the learning is done in a hands-on way,” said Christine Haslett, WCSD 21st Century Grant Project Manager.

“You will not find students sitting at their desks completing worksheets,” she said. “Students also have a say in what they would like to learn about, especially in the middle level program.

“This program focuses on helping students with their homework, strengthening their reading and math skills, and most importantly allowing them to explore STEM and STEAM hands-on activities. The middle level goes a bit farther in that there is some career and college exploration as well that is provided by guest speakers,” said Haslett of a WCSD program that has existed since 2011 in some form. “The first 21st Century grant started in 2011 and only served students in grades 3-5. Since that time, the grant expanded to grades 2-5, then grades 6-8, and then finally K-8.”

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grant is a competitive grant that provides federal funding to establish community learning centers that provide academic, artistic and cultural enrichment opportunities for students and their families, Haslett provided. These opportunities must occur during non-school hours or periods when school is not in session to help students attending high-poverty and low-performing schools to meet state and local standards in core academic subjects. The 21st CCLC grant is administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and provides funding for the establishment of community learning centers to provide students with academic enrichment opportunities. In addition to academics, 21st CCLC grantees may also offer participants a broad array of other services and programs, such as counseling, character education, drug and violence prevention programming, art, music, recreation activities and technology education.

The WCSD 21st Century Program is composed of two grants – the Cohort 10 (elementary level) and Cohort 11 (middle level).

The elementary program is split into two groups – grades K-2 (Discovery Crew) and grades 3-5 (STEM Squad).

The middle level program is called SPARK. These programs are offered on Mondays through Thursdays from 3:15 to 6 p.m. at all Warren County School District schools.

Parents can either pick up their students or students may ride the “late bus” to designated stops in the county. Along with all WCSD schools, Tidioute Community Charter School also offers this program.

“A great staff that, after working all day, stays after school to work with these students,” said Haslett. “It is a long day for everyone, but the staff puts on a smiling face every day to make the students feel welcome and a part of something special.

“To attract more qualified staff, the pay rate was increased (this school year) from $18 an hour to $25 an hour,” added Haslett. “Every site is fully staffed except for one elementary site.

“This year, Cohort 10 has staffing for 165 students,” she said. “Currently, there are 139 students enrolled.

“Cohort 11 has staffing for 100 students,” said Haslett. “Currently, there are 38 students enrolled. The Pennsylvania Department of Education requires that we achieve a certain level of attendance, so additional students are needed for the Cohort 11 grant. If we cannot reach a certain level, then the grant money will be reduced to the number of students that are currently attending, as well as reducing the number of schools where the program takes place.”

Based on what’s being offered and what’s been accomplished, this would be disappointing.

“The middle level program has specific components that the students will participate in this year,” said Haslett. “Maker Space allows them to choose a project they are interested in to work on over an extended period of time. This gives them the opportunity to dig into a topic and explore it completely. Environmental Literacy is a required topic that PDE included in the grant. We are lucky to have a great ‘environment’ to work in — the Allegheny National Forest. We are using a STEM kit called ‘Patently Inventive’ for the STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) component. Students can explore their inquisitive natures that lead them to remarkable things and test their own inventive skills as they tackle challenges that spark creativity, originality, and problem-solving. Students may also choose from several clubs to participate in; these include podcasting, drones, and financial literacy. Cooking is another fun activity that all the kids enjoy. Finally, College and Career Readiness (CCR) activities include speakers from (the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford) and (Northern Pennsylvania Regional College) and representatives from local industries. As a bonus, these activities can be added to the student’s college and career readiness portfolio as an artifact.”

Kassie Damcott of the City of Warren’s Department of Public Works has spoken to Beaty Warren Middle School’s program participants about the importance of recycling. As a result, students have acquired recycling containers, created posters to display around the school, and made a video introducing their own recycling program.

These kinds of efforts are nothing new to 21st Century; the most important ingredients are the students’ imaginations.

“One middle-level student created a business plan to sell chicken eggs, and then implemented it successfully,” said Haslett. “Our summer programs are fantastic. One summer, the students studied forensic science, which included observing a cow head and a pig head decomposing in totes in the school courtyard.

“Chapman Dam is a great program partner that offers fun and educational programs for the students during the summer,” said Haslett. “Both the elementary and middle level students worked with scientists from NASA to develop and build space crafts.”

After studying forms of pollution in Warren County, students placed different pieces of tape inside and outside their schools. Who knows what the microscope will find?

The Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center programs are funded in full or in part with a federal USDE grant provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Flyers and registration forms can be found at the Warren County School District website, under “For Parents” or at your school office. Questions may be directed to Christine Haslett at haslettc@wcsdpa.org.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today