We know there was significant learning loss during the pandemic – many studies and reports show that. We also know that some Murray students, currently and long before Covid, experience all kinds of insecurities – food, clothing, and housing, to name only a few.
And we know there’s long been a mountain of evidence to suggest that kids who have basic needs met are more likely to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. For each child, those needs are dynamic and a moving target that parents and educators are constantly trying to figure out.
We don’t always know what supports will optimize outcomes for every child. But one type of programming we have great confidence in is our after-school learning and engagement activities. We have evidence to suggest that this effort improves academics, addresses core needs, and in short, changes lives.
You may have missed it, but Murray High School (MHS) class of 2018 alum Thomas Schwab recently spoke in school assemblies at MHS and Hillcrest Jr. High. Today, he is a thriving engineer in the US Navy Nuclear Submarine school. But as a teenager in Murray, his family became homeless, and Thomas found simple learning daunting.
As Thomas said, most of his 11th-grade school year wasn’t so great as he sought out hidden places with lighting, such as bridges near the freeway, to do his homework at night. Or how he found warmth in a dumpster during a rainstorm, waiting it out until school started. It was hard, but he was taught that learning was his ticket out of these insecurities, so he pressed forward.
Incredibly, Thomas graduated at the top of his MHS class with a 4.0 (you can watch his story here). But he specifically mentioned that school and after-school programs and activities were key to keeping him motivated and engaged in learning. They were a lifeline as he stayed at school as long as possible because it was safe, warm, and fun.
MCSD After School Programs are Safe Places
This year MCSD has expanded its after-school offerings for kids who, like Thomas, need a safe place to get extra help with their classes, do their homework, or have some fun while guardians are at work. Horizon and Parkside Elementary schools and Hillcrest Jr. High are offering such programs and seeing great results.
Some of the funding for MCSD’s after-school programming comes from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant. According to Kamille Sheikh, USBE Education Specialist for the Title IV-B Grants, the teen club at Hillcrest is the most engaged of all the secondary schools she has observed post-Covid. She was impressed with the vast array of activity options offered. The American Rescue Plan Act grant has also helped fun summer and after-school activities for MCSD students.
According to Sarah Paul, who oversees Horizon’s After School program, “the biggest benefit of the program is that it is a safe place for students to be after school where they can interact with others, build relationships, and engage in new experiences.”
Each day after school, students sign in, grab a snack and get nearly an hour’s worth of 1:1 help with homework and tutoring on a wide range of subjects from teachers and paraeducators. Some kids take more of a small group or self-directed approach, participating in cognitive development games and puzzles.
The program is still new, so MCSD officials and program coordinators are monitoring the academic impact. Hillcrest paraeducator Morgan Lami reports having two students who passed their first term of ELA, partly thanks to their work during the after-school program.
Another student we will call “James” is also thriving – one of his teachers said that his social circle has grown, and he is developing leadership, determination, and critical thinking skills. He’s actively been helping teachers create new games that promote engagement among his peers.
One parent at Horizon reported that her student is always in a great mood when picked up from the program. He is also excited to share about his day and the activities done. When in the past, he was guarded with nothing to share.
Some of the normally quietest students are opening up, laughing, and giggling as they do school work in homework circles they form. Still, others find the experience a great way to decompress from various pressures and stress.
Those students who stay for another hour get to hang out with friends and play games that are organized by high school students and vary from day to day. But the focus is consistently directed toward exploration and fun social interaction.
Students can choose from mental engagement activities such as chess or science experiments. Or they can learn a new craft or participate in the arts (music and drama), while still others will engage in more physical activities such as badminton or riding bikes.
They get to choose what to fill their time with and, in the process, construct a repertoire of positive learning experiences that will carry over into their academic learning.
MCSD’s after-school programming is important to different kids for different reasons. Still, all our educators agree that expanded opportunities beyond the school bell give students one more reason to engage in learning – learning that opens doors to their future and prepares them for life, achievement, and happiness.