Schools are not just for day-time hours anymore

By Ronald MacArthur

The lights burn bright in the Woodbridge Elementary School long after most students are gone for the day. The lights are on in several classrooms for the new “Starz on Track” after-school program in the Woodbridge School District for fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. The program is a collaboration between several agencies including the district, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension 4-H, and the YMCA with two Public Allies from the Americorps program. And it fits right in with the current administration’s “No Child Left Behind” philosophy. So each day, Monday-Friday, students in the Woodbridge district come to the school to take part in the program from 3:10-6:10 p.m. Although the program is taking place at the elementary school this school year, plans are for the program to move to the middle school next school year, according to Dennis Rhodes, a 4-H agent who is program coordinator. Students start each day with a snack so they can unwind from the regular school day and for the next hour, they concentrate on homework with tutoring assistance from Woodbridge teachers. Whatever else takes place, homework help is the backbone of the after-school program. After the homework hour, students are exposed to a variety of enrichment activities that change on a regular basis. Rhodes said the staff plans fun activities that incorporate math, science, and language arts. The students also do craft activities. Youngsters taking part in the program selected the name and one of the students designed a logo for the after-school program. T-shirts are in the process of being printed with the logo.
Transportation is provided for the students to the school and to drop-off points after the program each night. Currently there are 37 students enrolled in the program and the goal is 75 students, according to Rhodes. The director said that the program has filled a need for busy, working parents who have been searching for a place for their children to go after school - that includes a strong educational component. “This program is an initial effort by the feds to see if an after-school program can affect performance,” Rhodes said. “Traditionally most after-school programs have been not much more than baby-sitting.” Rhodes, who is a retired school administrator from New Jersey, got involved with the 4-H program on a part-time basis and now it has become an unexpected career for him. He added that the grant for the program is based heavily on increasing test scores of students in the district. “But I don’t want to leave the impression that this program is only for that reason - it’s not exclusively for students who need help on the state test.” Rhodes said that he is encouraged even after only less than four months into the program. “It might take more than a year, but I think we can make a difference,” he said. For more information about the after-school program, phone 856-7303.

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