Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 12, 2013

Learning after hours

After-school community centers engage students who need academic help

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Fifth-grader Nick Miller sprinted across the gym at Bon Air School on a recent afternoon.

He said he was trying really hard to beat his best time of 18 seconds for a lap. That day, he fell just short.

Nick plotted his time on a chart along with 14 other students from the school.

The physical movement is good for him, he said. It helps him relieve his frustrations and gives him a confidence boost.

“When I run, I feel kind of good about myself,” he said.

For fifth-grader Alexandria Royster, it’s the science experiments that help her the most.

She remembered one from their weather unit that was really fun. She got to make a cloud out of water, shaving cream and food coloring, she said. Alexandria said she put the water in first, sprayed shaving cream on top and then added the coloring.

“Then we waited to see what it would do,” she said. “Mine created a rain. It was very cool.”

The exercises and hands-on science activities are a part of Alexandria and Nick’s new after-school routine.

They were among 60 second- , third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in Kokomo School Corp. selected to be the first to use the new after-school community centers the district launched with a $750,000 grant. The community centers provide a place for students, especially impoverished ones, to go after school to receive academic enrichment in areas like science and math.

The routine is the same every day: Physical activity, snack to refuel, homework time and science lesson. Then, at 6 p.m., buses take the children home.

On a recent afternoon, children learned how to make fog and tornadoes.

Students let out gasps and “oohs” when they saw that the hot water and ice they put together had created fog just like they saw that morning on their way to school.

“When you make those kinds of noises, you’re learning,” said Kathi Hoover, assistant coordinator for Title I in the district. “Discovery learning is the best.”

Teacher Vicki Douglas said her after-school students at Bon Air are always surprised by how much she lets them do. She doesn’t interfere when they’re doing their experiments — even if she sees them doing something wrong.

She lets them make mistakes and then talks with them about it afterwards. They discuss what went wrong and why.

That happened during the tornado experiment. The younger students got excited and didn’t wait for directions.

They violently shook their bottles of soap, water and glitter up and down instead of in a side-to-side swirling motion. The soap foamed up so much that they could no longer see the little tornado inside.

Douglas told them to let the soap settle, and try it again.

“The important thing with science is to let them do it themselves,” she said. “They learn what to do and what not to do.”

And when they’re done with the activities, they write about the results in their journals. Douglas also takes photos of the activities and hangs them on the walls.

There are pictures of kids measuring beans on a scale, testing out the helicopters and parachutes they made and building things with gum drops, marshmallows and tooth picks.

“That one was all about having a good foundation and seeing how things fit together,” Douglas said.

During a unit on construction, students also built homes out of household items. Then they ran tests to see whose was strong enough to withstand the gusts of air coming from a blow dryer. It was like they were living out the story of the Three Little Pigs, Douglas said.

Those activities have left a lasting impression on Alexandria, especially the ones on weather.

“The weather stuff helps me with science,” she said. “The experiments make science more fun.”

As an older student in the group, Alexandria also gets to help others out during the after-school program. It isn’t uncommon for her to help the younger children with their homework.

Sometimes they really need it, she said.

“I volunteer to help because they just look so confused,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, though, she sat at her seat and quietly worked on her own homework. She was getting ready for a spelling test by writing the words inside flower petals she drew. Some of them are tough, she said.

She wrote out words like “hundredth” and “recommends.”

Program coordinator Marcy Brown said she’s collecting classroom data to gauge the impact of the community centers. She’s hopeful the activities will translate to better grades in school.

Anecdotal evidence suggests it will. She said one little boy in the program told her his reading level went up already.

Hoover looked around the room as students experienced science first hand. She heard their giggles and saw their excitement. They have to be learning something, she said.

“You can see the engagement the kiddos have,” she said. “And this is after a long day at school.”

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.