MOUNT VERNON — The United Way of Knox County is doing its part to encourage student growth and development at two local elementary schools in Mount Vernon. East Elementary School’s Eagles’ Nest and Dan Emmett Elementary School’s Tiger Pride are weekly after-school programs that provide snacks, homework help and student enrichment.
Students are invited to join the after-school programs, United Way Program Director Elizabeth Doolittle explained, based on their performance in the classroom. At East Elementary School, the invitations are extended to students following testing, based on their test scores, she said.
The program was piloted last year at East Elementary, Doolittle explained, and because of its success with student engagement, it was extended to Dan Emmett Elementary, which is piloting a program this year. She explained that due to it being a piloted program, students at Dan Emmett Elementary are not necessarily invited based on their test scores, but overall academic performance and classroom engagement.
“It’s extended to students who are in need of individual attention by volunteers and aides,” Doolittle said. “Its primary goal is to give a boost to those who could fall behind.”
The programs run each day after school, Monday through Thursday, from 3:30-5 p.m.
“There are three elements that go into every program session,” Doolittle said. “First, it always starts with an after-school snack. Then, half of the program time is spent on tutoring and homework help, and the other half is spent on some kind of enrichment program.”
The enrichment programs are run through community United Way Partners, and include everything from yoga classes and Zumba exercise sessions to STEM activities and games, even food presentations by the Knox County OSU extension office, who recently helped the students with a Halloween-themed cupcake decorating program.
Offering the programs at the schools helps create a sense of stability with the familiar environment of the students’ own schools, Doolittle said. It also creates less of a burden on families to keep the students at the schools, and starting this year with the piloted program at Dan Emmett Elementary, Knox Area Transit is offering drop-offs for students, she said.
Anyone in the community can volunteer to help with these programs, with a rich supply of volunteers coming from Kenyon College and Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Doolittle said.
She explained that all volunteers helping with homework or tutoring are under the supervision of licensed educators, to make sure they are providing accurate information and appropriate help with the students’ work.
Casey Melton, third-grade teacher at East Elementary School, explained she has not only seen growth in reading levels in her students through the program, but also in their confidence level.
“I’ve definitely noticed, from the beginning of last year to the end, a growth in their reading levels,” Melton said. “I feel that the kids feel a lot more confident having some teacher support during their homework. I know they feel really good when they leave here already having their homework and their reading done for the night, and a lot times we get to do some extension with writing, so that’s often not a homework assignment, and we can help edit that. It does give kids who don’t have access to technology at home to be able to work on some of the programs that we use, like SuccessMaker or Study Island.”
Melton explained that this program offers an extra 45 minutes for teachers and students to reteach and reiterate some of the classroom skills, and a solid 15 extra minutes of reading each day.
“It’s a really beneficial program, because every students deserves their best chance,” Doolittle said. “And for me, visiting the programs and talking to the students, hearing how they’ve benefited is incredibly meaningful. Kelly Brenneman [United Way executive director] actually went to a program and was reading with a boy and she asked him, ‘why do you like it?’ and he said, ‘because there’s someone here to read to.’ You hear things like that from the kids and you know you’re making a difference.”