More than 50 students at Hyannis West Elementary School don’t mind staying after school for two and a half hours and doing their homework because they also get to do educational and fun projects with others in the community. The after-school program -- from 3:30 to 6 p.m. every school day -- is called the 21st Century Community Learning Center.
The program was restarted in October after the school received a three-year federal grant through the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It had run previously for eight years, but lost the grant two years ago before it resumed, Chaitra McCarty, the project’s site coordinator and a third-grade teacher at the school, explained during a recent visit to see the program in action.
The program is based on service learning with a focus on a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum, and the students in the program are learning and having fun as well.
“I like doing my homework in school,” said third-grader Miguel Teixeira, explaining that it allows him free time when he gets home. “I really like school, so I don’t mind it,” he said of the extra hours.
Miguel also likes the two projects he has signed up for -- with the JFK Hyannis Museum and Twin Brooks Golf Course. In the JFK program, he said, “I’m learning about how he liked to sail and liked the water.” His group members are also building miniature sailboats. In golf, he said he is learning more things he didn’t know about the sport that he can apply in mini-golf.
Stella Dias, also a third-grader, said she, too, enjoys the program. “When I have homework, it’s really quiet so I can learn better.” Stella is also in the JFK program where she said she is learning about how the former president’s family liked sailing; she's also trying out her own ideas in making the sailboats. The children also learn about boat and water safety in the program. Stella also chose to do the animal group where she is learning about whales and other animals.
Each day, the program starts with a snack in the cafeteria, then moves to the gym to get homework room assignments, where they do homework for a minimum of 20 minutes under the direction of a teacher. Around 4:30 p.m. the students divide into their extended learning groups with community partners, which run two days each week for the 12-week session. The students also get recess time at the end of the day.
In addition to the JFK Hyannis Museum and Twin Brooks Golf Course, the community partners this session are the Long Pasture Audubon Center and the Barnstable art program with a teacher from another school.
“We hope to get a community partner for each group, four groups a day,” McCarty said. The goal is to have 24 a year, as the program also runs in the summer. Other community partners, which donate the in-kind service, included: Cape Cod Cooperative Extension-4H Development, Cape Cod Maritime Museum, Gosnold of Cape Cod, Friends of Barnstable Harbor, the Food Pantry of Cape Cod, The Blue Institute, and Barnstable High School Drama Club. Cape Cod Community College students come as volunteers and McCarty hopes to get programs with Green Briar Nature Center and Calmer Choice.
“The extended learning is not like day care,” McCarty said. The students are engaged in activities such as creating a mural in a water conservation project, putting on a play, planting a garden, donating food, or learning to play golf -- all tied in with STEM learning elements. Twin Brooks also offers a two-week golf scholarship in the summer.
“We’re creating great connections with the community,” McCarty said.
The children are all together on Fridays when Gosnold staff come to talk about problem-solving and relationships. That program fits in with the school system’s emphasis on social-emotional learning, McCarty said.
“It’s awesome. I love it,” McCarty said of her involvement with the program, which allows her to do more creative work outside the classroom. The program has four teachers and a teaching assistant (in addition to her role and another teacher’s as site coordinators).
Student attendance is mandatory for a minimum number of two days a week, which doesn’t seem to be a problem as 50 of the 56 students attend all five days. Some students are chosen based upon teacher recommendations, but they must have transportation home, McCarty said.
The student enrollment has already increased from 35 in the fall session.
The grant program aims to provide the academic, artistic, and cultural enrichment opportunities -- particularly for students in high-poverty and low-performing schools -- in order to meet state and local standards in core academic subjects.
Anyone interested in being a community partner may contact McCarty at firstname.lastname@example.org.