Learning program returns, this time to Oak Heights

Sean C. Morgan

Students struggling in school will have more opportunities to get help this year as the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam has partnered with the Sweet Home School District and Lebanon School District to implement a 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

The Boys and Girls Club and Sweet Home School District previously operated a Community Learning Center at Foster Elementary School.

“We’re super excited about the grant opportunity,” said Kris Latimer, Boys and Girls Club executive director. “We appreciate the strong partnership with our school districts. Lebanon and Sweet Home bend over backward to work with us.”

The elementary school program will begin Oct. 1, Latimer said. Junior high students will start mid-October, and high school students will start in November. Each site is capped at 40 students.

The club is hoping to serve 450 students each year, Latimer said. She expects that the students in the program will fluctuate. Lebanon also has three sites capped at 40 students each, for a total of 240 at six sites in the program at any given time.

Those who attend less tha 1n 80 percent of the time will be removed from the program to make room for new students, Latimer said.

“The CLC will offer extra programming for identified kids,” said Sweet Home Supt. Tom Yahraes. “(It’s) for kids that are struggling in academic areas, to help get those kids get back on track and close the achievement gap.”

The Community Learning Centers are funded by a $490,000 grant for three years, Latimer said. That decreases by 25 percent in the fourth and fifth year of the program. All of the funds are used to pay for the CLC program and does not supplement the Boys and Girls Club’s operating budget.

This program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.

The program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math; offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.

“It’s focused on serving kids who need a little extra boost,” Latimer said, and in particular, it helps students living in poverty. “The idea is that children that live in poverty may not have all the things they need at home.”

Those homes sometimes have fewer enrichment opportunities and less homework support, Latimer said. Studies show that children living in poverty are two grade levels behind their peers.

It limits children’s development, Latimer said, and in effect, “living in poverty as a child is like eating lead-based paint.”

She said that families can self-select for the program. Building administrators and teachers can refer students to the program and will provide information to parents.

The districts also will identify and invite families who could benefit from the program, Yahraes said. The initial selection in Sweet Home will be at Oak Heights, where the fifth- and sixth-grade program will be housed.

The program focuses on students who are close to switching schools, from elementary to junior high and then to high school.

“The idea is to hit the transition points,” Latimer said. “Those are the huge risk years. We’re going to actively support these kids during those transition years. The daily schedule – there is a big focus on academics.”

Based on his experience with CLC programs, Yahraes said the first year is spent getting “your feet under you,” and then the programs blossom.

The Community Learning Centers have three goals: increasing academic success, addressing overall behavior issues and decreasing absenteeism.

The club is working with the districts to create a pool of paid teachers and assistants who will provide help with homework and tutoring, Latimer said. The program focuses on academics for about one and a half hours. Following that is an enrichment period, one and a half hours where students can participate in a wide range of activities, that could include the arts, science and technology, dance, fly fishing and more.

The club has partnered with the Comp NW medical school to help provide enrichment programming, Latimer said, so activities might also include cooking classes and nutrition, for example.

At the ninth grade, the program will focus on career planning and getting students excited about high school, Latimer said.

Often, students served by CLCs “can’t afford lessons in chess or music,” Yahraes said. He’s seen enrichment programs include a wide range of activities, such as karate and fly fishing – things the students may not get to do otherwise.

It can help children find a passion and develop a talent, Yahraes said. That possibly improves their self-esteem and sets them up for more success in school.

The club will work with the district to address behavioral issues.

“We spend a lot of extra time we can’t afford in one-on-one time with kids who don’t know how to deal with confrontation or communication,” Latimer said. The goal is to help them learn how to cope in those situations.

Yahraes said they can help with behavior issues.

“My experience with CLC programs, kids, sometimes they don’t know what’s going on,” Yahraes said. Their behavior issues, acting up, are a way for them to avoid those situations where they don’t know how to respond.

The club isn’t shying away from students with behavioral issues, said Rachel Stucky, Sweet Home Director of Teaching and Learning. The club’s project director “told us not to shy away from those kids.”

Stucky said the district was concerned about those students who have the highest level of need, who need the most support; but program officials, who include behavior specialists, want those students.

Data show that CLCs work, he said.

So do the experiences of retired teacher Rich Little, who ran a 21st Century Community Learning Centers program at Foster Elementary from about 2005 to 2011, when funding ran out.

The program was about 80 percent Foster students, and Little believes the gains they made showed up in Foster School’s test scores.

The school has had the district’s highest homeless and poverty rates over the years and struggled in state assessments.

The Community Learning Center there focused on science and social studies, Little said. It gave teachers the freedom to break away and teach outside the tests, a unit on butterflies, for example. Academics infused everything the CLC staff were doing, including the enrichment.

A “breakfast club” gave students help with homework in the mornings before school.

“Academically, you see what happened to Foster scores,” Little said. “The community as a whole felt really good about what happened out there.”

While the CLC was in place there, Foster began seeing growth in the number of students meeting and exceeding the state standards based on state assessment testing. Today, the school continues to improve that number and leads the district’s regular elementary schools in math and language arts.

The CLC also provided help for students with anger management problems, Little said, and he remembered watching one boy from the old Opportunity Room housed at Holley Elementary School transform into a role model through the CLC.

“I’m glad to see it’s coming back,” Little said.