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With help from learning grant, After School program continues

Staff Photos: Erin Evans
 Sixth-graders Enrigue Ramon and Kira Refoe work on a practice test on the computer program Study Island during the After School Academic Program at Liberty Middle School last week. During the program, they work on a computer and then rotate to another station where they get any needed help from a teacher. 

Staff Photos: Erin Evans Sixth-graders Enrigue Ramon and Kira Refoe work on a practice test on the computer program Study Island during the After School Academic Program at Liberty Middle School last week. During the program, they work on a computer and then rotate to another station where they get any needed help from a teacher. 

COVINGTON — The tuition-free After School Academic Program will continue in the Newton County School System for at least the rest of the school year.

NCSS recently learned that it will receive a continuation grant for $372,495 from the 21st Century Community Learning Center to continue ASAP, a program that was started last school year as a result of the first $350,000 federal grant from the organization.

This school year, the program is serving 250 students at Middle Ridge and Porterdale elementary schools, Liberty Middle School and the Washington Street Community Center, which serves elementary and middle school students. Challenge Charter Academy's program was discontinued due to low participation last school year. Tuition-free students are enrolled in ASAP through invitation only, but NCSS also offers tuition-based after-school programs at schools.

With the grant, students are given opportunities for enrichment programs that incorporate general education studies based on Georgia Performance Standards with health and fitness, cultural activities, technology, the arts and other areas. Activities include writing, foreign language and sign language, dance and step, music, debate, poetry, sewing, cooking, photography and various sports. The program also asks parents to participate in education classes.

The program is targeted to students who did not meet state standards on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in English/language arts or math, students who were retained due to academics or attendance and students who are deemed at risk for other reasons.

The grant received this year was based on last year's statistics. The program served more than 300 students aged 5 to 16 years old; more than 52 percent were male, more than 74 percent were black, more than 55 percent came from a single-family household, nearly 17 percent were in special education and more than 92 percent were part of the free and reduced lunch program.

"We had our work cut out for us," said Deena Sams, school/parent/community collaboration coordinator at NCSS.

Data from last school year showed that more than 75 percent of students in the program met or exceeded state standards in reading and English/language arts on the CRCT and nearly 63 percent in math. School attendance showed that the students were absent an average of about four days and 83 percent of them had improved attendance last school year. Forty-five percent of students also demonstrated improved grades in reading, English/language arts and math.

An evaluator with the grant program that conducted site visits found that site areas were clean and orderly, but it found that Challenge Charter Academy has problems with disruptive behavior.

The evaluator recommended additional support for the Washington Street Community Center, as well as more communication between the center and the students' teachers. Sams said the program is trying to supply books to the center and is looking for more teachers for the site.

"They are a community center and not part of the school system, so there was a disconnect," she said.

The sites also were charged to find better ways to improve consistent instruction across the board.

The grant will be continued next school year, too, based on results and evaluations.