Learning Beyond the Classroom
Free After School Program Gives Students an ‘Extra Push’
For children who participate in Escambia County’s “Play, Learn, Grow” After School Program at the Marie K. Young/Wedgewood Community Center, learning doesn’t stop when they leave school each afternoon.
The free program offered by the county’s Department of Neighborhood & Human Services strives to enhance the academic experience for students in grades K-12, while offering a fun, safe environment.
On weekday afternoons during the school year, the community center is bustling with activity as students enjoy recreation time, get homework help and participate in special projects and reading groups, among other activities. And although the program provides plenty of fun, the vision for “Play, Learn, Grow” is much bigger than entertainment.
“The goal of the program is to help assist with trying to give them some kind of increase in reading and mathematics,” said Shurlitha Jones, who oversees the program as Escambia County’s community center coordinator. “Because if they increase their reading and mathematical ability, then they’ll increase social studies, they’ll increase science – those types of things. We’re basically trying to provide a support system or supportive network for schools and at home.”
In addition to helping students with homework and offering remediation in math and reading, Jones said the program has a partnership with the Escambia County School District to utilize Google Chromebooks, which allows students to access the same accounts and educational websites they do at school.
Kathryn Lovely, who teaches at the after school program along with teaching fourth grade at O.J. Semmes Elementary School, said using the Chromebooks is a big help for students, allowing them to get personalized help and do research on their own.
“I think it’s important, because it goes along with our school district’s vision where students are getting that extended help beyond the school hours,” Lovely said. “And it’s motivating, it’s fun – it’s a way for students to stay focused and have something positive to do in our community.”
On Fridays, the program focuses on project-based learning for each age group, where students are able to incorporate different subjects such as reading, language arts, math and science into a hands-on project. Third through fifth grade students have created constellation charts and artificial rock formations, and the kindergarteners through second graders have learned about bear hibernation and created a thankful tree while learning about Thanksgiving.
“We provide them with something where they’re learning, but they’re having fun with it at the same time,” Jones said.
Samantha Byrd, whose children Jordin and Jasmine have participated in “Play, Learn, Grow” since the beginning of the school year, said the extra push through the program has helped improve their grades in all subjects. Byrd said the program serves as an important resource for parents, especially those who work during the week like she does.
“I think it’s great,” Byrd said. “The ladies here are really great – they help me a lot…if you don’t have stuff like this, then you have so much more to do at the end of the day.”
Along with assisting students and parents, the program serves as a support system for teachers. Latris Garner, who teaches at “Play, Learn, Grow” and teaches kindergarten at Lincoln Park Elementary School, said the extra help is much needed for teachers and parents, who may not have the time and resources to dig in after school and work.
“So we provide support and fill the gap that (teachers) may see during the school day,” Garner said. “Me being a classroom teacher, you know it’s a huge need. You can see children who need that extra push, but they may not have that support at home. It’s somewhere to go in the community.”
The "Play, Learn, Grow" After School Program meets Mondays-Fridays from 3-5:30 p.m. through May 26, 2017. For more information, click here
or contact Community Center Coordinator Shurlitha Jones at 850-426-1234 or firstname.lastname@example.org
. For information about The Youth Connection at Ebonwood/Oakcrest Community Center, another after school program offered by Escambia County, click here.