Teachers pursuing grant to create after school program

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

MFL MarMac Elementary teachers Niki Guese, Crystal Thurn and Emily Welper are pursuing a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to create a free after school program that would aid K-3 student academics through homework help and fun, educational clubs.

The grant would fully fund the program, including a full-time coordinator, snacks and materials, Thurn told the school board at its Oct. 10 meeting.

Having a place for students to go after school will also help overstretched staff.

“There have been after school problems with recess,” Guese said, noting that, as teachers deal with other issues, it’s been hard to staff it.

The same has happened with after school homework help, Thurn added. 

“There’s a need for after school homework help,” she shared, “but it’s hard to get staffed because teachers are busy.”

Guese said parents have been supportive of the idea, which would include three hours of daily after school programming. Aside from homework help and reading time, students could participate in clubs, covering topics like STEM, fitness and health, gardening and drama.

“We would come up with our own curriculum,” Guese said. “It’s not supposed to look like a typical school day. It will be fun and hands-on.”

“We could bring in volunteers from the community to share about a specialty area,” Thurn said, adding that the daycare will also be included in programming.

By partnering with a college, Guese said programming could also be offered for parents, including ELL or GED classes. She said NICC has expressed interest in working with MFL MarMac.

The teachers said similar after school programs have been successful in nearby districts, including Postville and Waukon.

In order to be eligible for the grant, Thurn said the school needs to show need based on free/reduced lunch counts, which it does at the elementary level. It also shows a need for parents, she said. The only need it doesn’t meet is in regard to the Iowa Assessment.

The teachers said they are currently in the process of writing the grant, which must be completed in December. If accepted, the grant would be good for three years, at which time they would have to reapply.

If this round is successful, the teachers said they could also look at expanding the program to include more grade levels.

“A Day in the Life”

McGregor Center Principal Denise Mueller and teacher Brent Pape shared about a new monthly activity for sixth- through eighth-grade students called “A Day in the Life.”

For one afternoon each month, students can sign up for a session that makes them think outside the box, Mueller said. 

“It’s very hands-on,” she noted.

Sessions like “A Day in the Life” of a chef, sailor, entrepreneur, engineer, city manager, a capella group, tower builder, producer, first responder or brain are among the sessions offered, Mueller explained.

Pape, who teaches the entrepreneur session, setting it up like the TV show “Shark Tank,” where students come up with a business or service to pitch to a panel, said he was impressed with the students’ efforts. 

“The stuff the kids came up with was amazing,” he said. “They really dug in and thought outside the box. It wasn’t just sit and get for two hours.”

Mueller said the idea for “A Day in the Life” came about through some sessions she’s attended, where employers stress the need for employees who can think outside the box. Teachers have also wanted to do activities like this, but couldn’t fit it in their schedules.

“We made it a priority to do it because teachers run out of time,” she said.

Social studies

Pape said social studies classes have also been doing less “sitting and getting” in the classroom, instead focusing on digging deeper into topics.

One way they’re doing that is through “Presidential Speed Dating.” Like the NFL draft, students select one of the U.S. presidents, he explained. They’re then challenged to present information on the president by writing a song, building a website, painting a wall mural or creating a YouTube video. The project they choose is up to the student.

“They have to go through a whole project proposal, and they have to carry through on what they want to do,” he said.

Pape said the projects have had good results, with students picking up information they might not have through more traditional avenues.

“Hopefully we will see more of this coming out of civics and geography,” he shared. “If that’s how they learn and remember, we’ll keep doing it this way.”

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