By Vicki Ikeogu
After three school years without adequate funding for various before school, after school and summer programs for Columbia Heights public school students, the district is gearing up for a robust revitalization of its ENCORE program.
“We know out of school time is very important for student learning and student engagement,” said Kristen Stuenkel, director of community education. “We saw for many years through our ENCORE programming that student engagement increased, but also their academics increased.”
At the Aug. 22 school board meeting, Stuenkel and Director of Teaching and Learning Zena Stenvik, informed board members of Columbia Heights’ forecasted success in securing funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant through the Minnesota Department of Education.
“We had a visit from members of the Department of Education,” Stenvik said. “We are just waiting on a few more signatures. But we are 99.99 percent sure we have received the funding. So, we are proceeding with planning and preparation.” (See related article elsewhere in this edition.)
The ENCORE program officially debuted in the school district during the 2009-2010 school year to help further students’ development in five areas: academic support, the arts, technology, health and fitness, and environmental studies. A variety of programming was done at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
Funding for the grant had been equally split between the 21st CCLC Grant and Targeted Services Funding. However, the 21st CCLC Grant funding had ended during the 2013-2014 school year.
“After that, we had to narrow down what programming we could provide during after school time,” Stuenkel said. “So, we continued with a one-day a week program at the elementary school drawing on just the Targeted Services Funding.”
Stuenkel said this past spring members of the district along with the principals met to discuss options for crafting another grant proposal to secure funding for the ENCORE program.
The school district also partnered with the Columbia Heights Recreation Department in applying for the grant.
“This was a very competitive application,” she said.
Stuenkel said the district had received notification from the Minnesota Department of Education in early summer that Columbia Heights had proceeded past the competitive application stage.
Stuenkel and Stenvik have spent the past few weeks outlining the new structure for the ENCORE program.
The high school program will have before school gym time Tuesday through Thursday. After school, students will have the option to strength train Monday through Thursday or participate in classes like computer programming, aquaponics and cooking.
During the summer, high schoolers will have the option to participate in summer long strength training or an arts program conducted by the Columbia Heights Recreation Department. Stuenkel said the summer high school ENCORE program will also have a two-week musical theater camp available done in conjunction with the St. Paul Conservatory.
Middle school programs differ slightly. Stenvik said basketball and soccer gym time will be available Tuesday through Thursday before school. After school, students will have the option to learn about computer programming or participate in either a Heritage Spanish class or try their hand at pottery thanks to Northern Clay Center.
Other ENCORE related programs are still being developed for middle school students.
During the summer months, ENCORE middle school participants can also enroll in Columbia Heights Recreation Department’s arts program, a dance camp or an aquaponics camp.
For elementary school students, Stuenkel said gym time before school would be available at Valley View Elementary Monday through Thursday. Pottery and Spanish classes would be available after school. Stuenkel said elementary teachers are also working on developing other ENCORE after school programming as well.
Elementary school students will have the opportunity to participate in academic or art classes during the summer months.
“I’m so glad to see this coming back,” said Laura Palmer, school board vice-chair. “I know a lot of work went into planning this.”
Board members Naty Severson and Lorien Mueller said the ENCORE program has helped their kids become more confident in learning and building relationships.
“For those of us who have had our children in (ENCORE), we have been missing it a lot,” Mueller said.
During the 2013-2014 school year, 1,421 students district-wide participated in the ENCORE program. Data gathered by Wilder Research found participation in ENCORE programs during that same time frame saw double-digit score improvements in both reading in math from fall of 2013 through spring of 2014.