Story by Deb Seminary, contributing writer
Afterschool programs provide endless opportunities for learning experiences, exposure to the arts, physical activity, and even internships for older students. Families benefit from their children's increased engagement and the ability for parents to remain in the workforce.
In North Dakota, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) Program serves up to 10,000 students per year at over 100 sites. Federal funding was first made available in 1998 as a means to reduce at-risk behaviors for kids between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.
“It started as activities for students, and has slowly evolved as a supplement to the school day,” said Joe Kolosky, director, Office of School Approval and Opportunity, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (DPI). “The North Dakota 21st CCLC curriculum must be comprised of at least 65 percent STEAM and reading, and staff is required to maintain communication with the participating students’ teachers.”
Applicants must demonstrate they meet the statutory program requirements of serving students from schools eligible for school-wide Title I programs, or schools with 40 percent or greater poverty based on free and reduced-lunch status, as determined by using verified information.
Lori Zahradka, special projects coordinator for North Valley Career-Tech Center in Grafton, currently works with eight 21st CCLC programs in six school districts, making sure they are working toward their goals and achieving them.
“In our grant application, we plan for STEAM- and project-based learning, as well as career exploration and career and college readiness,” she said. “Our offerings may change based on the needs of the students. We also rely on partnerships and work hard to sustain them.”
Some of the partnerships include UAS camps at Northland College in Thief River Falls, internships and tours at regional manufacturing facilities, and various programs through NDSU Extension.
“Students get an opportunity to do things they wouldn't otherwise have a chance to do,” said Zahradka.
She went on to explain just a few activities included in their curriculum.
“We really focus on reading and social-emotional development with our kindergarten through second graders,” she said. “They also do STEAM-related activities, especially with robotics. In addition, we integrate service learning, working with Students Rebuild, a program of the Bezos Family Foundation.
“As students get older, they have more choices – in addition to homework help, we have a lot of clubs: cooking club, chess club, choir club, Lego club, VEX club, welding, ag, auto mechanics, even music lessons in the summer.”
North Valley’s 21st CCLC sites involve the whole family. They even offer reading workshops for parents.
“It’s important to work with parents to find out what is important in their communities,” said Kolosky.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 50 percent of students who attended a Community Learning Center improved their grades in math and/or language art, and more than two in three improved their homework completion and classroom participation.
21st CCLC is a smart investment in our children’s future.