What makes a school a 21st Century Learning Center?
Modern facilities? Computers?
A 21st Century Learning Center is a specifically designed, state funded program providing results-based afterschool instruction and enrichment activities to low income children, bringing up reading and math scores. But academic achievement isn’t the only goal of a 21st Century Learning Center. Opportunities for the entire family to participate in kids’ academic success create a sustainable family and community culture that helps everyone thrive. Thriving families lead to safe and strong communities with increased economic opportunity for everyone.
In Talbot County, this means reaching the ever growing population on non-English speaking families, from numerous countries around the globe. The Hispanic population alone has now reached 26% of Easton Elementary School.
“Back in 2001we recognized that the non-English speaking population was about to explode because of the incredible resources in Talbot County – the housing boom and the growing workforce” said Principal J. Redmond of Easton Elementary. “Talbot, Caroline and Queen Anne’s counties invested in economic development of immigrant populations and it’s paid off greatly. Partnering with the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center on this 21st Century grant made a huge difference in meeting the needs of our students. It has far exceeded our expectations” he said.
And that assessment is backed up with numbers. “We’re focused on performance – improvements in reading and math test scores” said Matthew Peters, Director of the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center. “At the end of the first year of the program, an independent outside evaluator rated the program on a number of metrics and determined that the students who participated in the program fully showed gains in both reading and math test scores compared to children who did not. Scores of children whose parents also participate in English and parenting classes showed the most noticeable improvement.
The afterschool program is robust. 120 children in Easton Elementary get a safe, structured, enriched afterschool experience throughout the school year as well as a meal, and extra support from teachers. “The project is important to me because we can and do make a big difference, not just academically but internally, for the kids. They become more self-confident, more social, better able to work together” said Jan Johnston, the afterschool Program Coordinator. “We can go above and beyond what teachers do to enhance the curriculum – special things that kids wouldn’t expect – games, team building, hands-on activities that are group-oriented. We’re able to see who are the leaders and the followers, see students’ unique skills and interests and head off problems. We try to address the students’ broader needs – spiritual, psychological, physical needs as well as academic needs of the students.”
The gains are broad – from academic achievement gains, to social ones, parents and family community development and cultural gains – and deep. Parents have to pick the children up each day and as a result, are becoming comfortable in the school setting, developing relationships with school personnel and community volunteers. They are also required to make a commitment to their own education and join adult literacy classes, help their students with homework and participate in social and group enrichment activities including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Most parents coming from undeveloped countries value a good education, but are not aware of their key role in insuring academic success. Helping young families when their first children enter school to set clear expectations and actively supporting their children’s efforts paves the way for the success of younger siblings. “The program is intentional, deliberate and thoughtful” said Easton Elementary Family Liaison Emily Moody. “In the first year, parents became informed and comfortable here. Now they’re becoming advocates for their kids’ education.”
Reaching forward to the future, goals and plans are wide. One proposal is to start a math award, in which students can earn credits to take their entire famil; y on a trip to the Baltimore Aquarium, or other places that many new families can’t access due to transportation needs. Jan Johnston imagines specially planned life-skills classes for 5th graders – how to safely use the microwave, make dinner, basic first aid, babysitting skills and safety in the home. And Matthew Peters and the rest of the staff and volunteers at the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center plan to continue to listen, be present and reach out to new families who move into our community and envision a larger Talbot County that embraces diversity. With their focus, the support of the state grant and the schools’ commitment, the partnership reveals a successful 21st Century Learning Center.