District 13’s after-school program benefits students

The after-school program offered through Columbia Heights Public Schools is living up to its name – it’s receiving high praise and children are returning for more opportunities.

Students participating in the after-school program ENCORE play chess at Highland Elementary in Columbia Heights. (Photo submitted by Duane Berkas)
Students participating in the after-school program ENCORE play chess at Highland Elementary in Columbia Heights. (Photo submitted by Duane Berkas)

The School Board this past November was presented with program data on the school district’s after-school program, ENCORE.

This is the fourth year that Columbia Heights Public Schools has offered ENCORE. For the last three years, it has been funded through a federal 21st century learning grant that totals $296,000 each year. Funding for next year is in place as well.

Linda Ernst, state and federal programs coordinator for the school district, retired this past summer. She had been coordinating the program, which is now being supervised by Director of Community Education Kristen Stuenkel.

Kristin Dillon with Wilder Research presented the program data from the 2011-12 school year.

Wilder Research partnered with the ENCORE program to collect program data, teacher-reported student progress surveys, student standardized test scores and surveys from 744 students, 412 parents and 68 teachers.

According to the information presented, 1,302 students participated in the program during the 2011-12 academic year, with 31 percent of students participating 30 or more times, 30 percent participating 10 or more times, 25 percent participating fewer than 10 times, 13 percent participating 60 or more times, and 1 percent participating 90 or more times.

According to Dillon, 78 percent of students who participated in ENCORE were in elementary school, 18 percent of students were in middle school and 4 percent of students were in high school.

Most students, 85 percent, said they learned new things, and 95 percent of parents and 72 percent of students felt that the program helped them do better in school.

Specifically, 60 percent of students said the program helped them get their homework done, and 72 percent of students said that ENCORE helped them participate more in class.

Teachers reported that the areas most in need of improvement among students were academic performance (69 percent), participating in class (68 percent) and volunteering (64 percent). In most areas, a greater number of students improved than stayed the same or declined.

Teachers were significantly less likely to report that students needed improvement if the student participated in ENCORE multiple years.

Regarding standardized test scores, students with limited English proficiency were more likely to improve in math, and improved to a greater extent in math and reading. Male students were more likely to improve, and improved to a great extent in reading, and there were no differences in academic improvement based on race/ethnicity, free or reduced lunch, or special education.

According to Dillon, 98 percent of parents found that the ENCORE program increased their children’s sense of responsibility, 81 percent of students reported that the program will benefit them in the future by helping them: feel good about themselves (87 percent),get along with others (76 percent), make healthy choices (73 percent), imagine life as an adult (70 percent) and talk to others when upset (68 percent).

The data also supports that students are satisfied with the ENCORE program, with 93 percent of students saying they felt welcome in the program, and 95 percent of students saying they felt safe in the program.

In addition, 88 percent of students said they enjoyed the program, and 80 percent said they felt they had a say in program activities.

When asked about adults in the program, 88 percent of students reported that at least one adult in ENCORE cares about them, and 91 percent said at least one adult in the program cares about what they have to say.

Concerning parent satisfaction with the program, 99 to 100 percent of parents reported that their children feel safe in the program and that staff treat their children in a fair and respectful manner. Also, 98 percent of parents felt that the program’s focus on academics is valuable for their children, and 98 percent reported that the program responded to them when they had concerns about their children and ENCORE.

Among the conclusions, Dillon reported that there is diverse participation among students, and there is a clear benefit to students who attend the program regularly.

“The classes are helping the students to learn academic subjects in a different way than they learn during the school day,” said Stuenkel of the ENCORE program. “It’s not just more of what they’re doing during the day. It’s taught in a very interactive, dynamic way.”

Based on the data, it shows that ENCORE is making a difference in students’ academic success, test scores, how they’re engaging in class, and students’ behavior, she said, because students understand the value of what they’re learning.

Students and teachers are building and strengthening relationships because the school district’s daytime teachers teach most of the ENCORE classes, Stuenkel added.

ENCORE partners with organizations such as the Science Museum of Minnesota, Northern Clay Center and MacPhail Center for Music, and school district teachers are co-teaching those classes.

“We bring in these really exceptional organizations to teach our students, and our students don’t have to pay anything for that,” Stuenkel said.

“We’re proud of ENCORE and the work that our teachers and outside organization do,” said Director of Teaching and Learning Duane Berkas. “We feel that it’s a high-quality program.

“We have the same demographics in the after-school program that we do during the day. It’s not exclusive of anyone,” he said. “As a result of students participating in it, we can show through data that there is a positive impact on student achievement, that kids have a better connection to school, they have a chance to pursue interests and that they find it fun.”

“In our district, we know that a lot of kids don’t have these kinds of opportunities if they’re not provided by us,” Berkas said. “If people have limited income, they may not be able to send their kids to after-school programs that emphasize music, drama or science. I feel like it adds a great deal to the learning experience of our kids.”


Contact Kassie Petermann at [email protected]