Grant funding after-school programs at King, Prairie

Grant funding after-school programs at King, Prairie

URBANA — Two more Urbana schools will soon get federal grant money to start after-school programs that will offer students academic help and enrichment activities.

The new programs will start at King and Prairie elementary schools next year, and they will have a special focus on academics and active learning, said Linda Gibbens, the Urbana school district's director of grant-based programs.

"We're just really beginning to brainstorm about how they will look," she said.

The Urbana school district will receive $300,000 through a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, which is for five years.

The grant is one of many the Illinois State Board of Education announced Thursday, which total $14 million, for before- and after-school programs around the state.

The state distributes the money, which comes from the U.S. Department of Education.

Urbana has three similar programs paid for by 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, at its high school, middle school and at Leal Elementary.

The after-school programs are intended to provide more academic and enrichment activities for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

They also provide free academic help for any student, and the same enrichment activities are open to other students for a nominal fee, Gibbens said.

"This allows everyone an equalized playing field," she said.

The school district is still figuring out and planning for the new programs.

"We do have big plans (for the programs at King and Prairie) but it's kind of easy because we've had some pretty good success with what we're doing now," Gibbens said.

"We don't have to re-create the wheel."

Current programs offer academic help in homework labs and small-group tutoring sessions, and the chance for students to relearn lessons taught that day in school.

"We offer just an unbelievable number of enrichment activities" in current grant-funded after-school programs, Gibbens said, and the new programs will follow suit, as well.

For example, at Urbana Middle School, students can choose from six-week sessions on subjects such as photography, crocheting, sign language and software like GarageBand, which allows students to record and produce music and audio.

Other programs also partner with Urbana Adult Education and offer parents English as a Second Language classes.

Gibbens said the two newest after-school programs will also serve parents, but exactly how is still being decided.

The current programs partner with the Urbana Park District and Parkland College, Gibbens said.

The new ones will partner with the park district, the school-based community health center, the University of Illinois' College of Education, Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, and Entrepreneurial Leadership in STEM Teaching and Learning, which trains teachers in teaching science, technology, engineering and math.

Other than staff members who work for those partner groups, Gibbens said, Urbana school district staff members work in the after-school programs, and she called it a "really well-educated, creative group."

The purpose of the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program, a key component of the No Child Left Behind Act, is to provide before- and after-school programs for students who attend schools with a 40-percent poverty rate or higher.

Gibbens said the Urbana school district pays close attention to the academics and even standardized tests scores of those who participate.

In the last year, students who attended more than 30 days saw higher scores in language arts and math.

"It's important for our schools to get this money to provide the additional academic programs our students need," said school district spokeswoman JoAnne Geigner. "And the kids have fun with it."

However, there is one caveat: If on Jan. 2 the federal government's so-called fiscal cliff happens, it's possible the Urbana school district will see cuts in its current 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, as well as this new grant, Geigner said.