Successful Kids: After school program aims to better test scores

"His eyes glued to a computer screen, Jerrom Rolen thinks he is having fun following the quick moving images set before him.But what the tall, dexterous 10-year-old doesn't know is that he is augmenting his reading skills cloaked in a fun game called, Carmen San Diego Word Detective.It's dark outside and well past 5 p.m. While most of Jerrom's classmates are likely at home, he doesn't mind still being at school.Jerrom is one of about 150 pupils at Mark Twain Elementary School who stay a little longer in an after school program called Successful Kids. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, children remain at the school to attend three, 40-minute sessions of extra classes. Of the three classes, two are reading and math, the other is an elective, either physical education, art class or computer lab.To Jerrom, the program gives him a chance to spend more time on his favorite subject, computers.It's pretty fun, he said. It gives me a chance to just play games. It's better than staying at home.Instituted this school year, Successful Kids is part of a 21st Century Community Learning grant funded by the federal government. The after-school sessions are also run at Wildwood and Sunnycrest Elementary schools. Program Director Cindy Chaput says students benefit from the program because of the small class sizes - about eight to 15 students - and the opportunity to get more individualized attention from off duty teachers, teachers aides and volunteers. It's a good opportunity for the staff to work one-on-one with students, she said. And the families are overjoyed about it. Sure kids come home a little bit later, but a lot of times their homework is already finished so the whole family can enjoy a good quality of life.Fifth-grader Clarisse Marcelo agrees. I think it's a great idea for kids, she said while sitting among a group of students in the Mark Twain Library. You can get help with your homework because parents don't always know what you're learning but the teachers do and they'll help you out with that. Chaput is quick to defend the program against detractors who have called Successful Kids just another government program or who have said it's too much government involvement in schools.There's definitely a need here, she said. They need to have the benefits of what we can provide for them.To track just how successful the program is expected to be, Chaput says she set up an accountability system by testing the enrolled students in math and reading earlier in the year. They will be compared to tests the children will take at the end of this year. In addition, teachers work on learning skills tested by the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam, or WASL, given yearly to fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders as well as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, or ITBS, given to third- and sixth-graders.We are tax payers and we're all paying for programs like this in other states, she said. Why not pay for it right here?Para-educator Debbie Jahns who works helping students in the computer lab at Mark Twain after school thinks the program is paying off for everyone involved in Successful Kids.It's a free two hours after school so some parents don't have to rush home from work just to get home, she said. It's daycare, enrichment and it's nice for part-timers (staff) to earn extra money.In another classroom, fourth-grader Ayan Dahir sits among a group of students brushing up on math problems from teacher Andrew Jones. She says she enjoys staying after school.It's fun and you can learn your math, she said. Everything I can do can help my math skills and reading skills get better.That's music to Joneses ears who says the Successful Kids program works best with eager students like Ayan.It's a chance for them to get extra attention on the type of problems and homework we do, he said. Those who want to be here really enjoy it. They're not coming into a glorified after school program, they're learning and they look forward to it. "

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