Kids Keep Learning After School At East Hampton’s John Marshall Elementary School

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After the final bell rings at John Marshall Elementary School, there is still much to do—while some students go home for the day, others stay behind to construct experiments, win a game of chess, stretch their yoga legs and, of course, get a start on their homework.In an attempt to revamp its Homework Club, John Marshall Elementary has partnered with Project MOST, a non-profit after-school educational program, to design and help run an effective after-school program that acts as an extension of the school day.

The Expanded Ed Homework Program, as it is called, according to Tim Bryden, the executive director at Project MOST, is not only a time when students can work on their homework, but also a time when they can expand their understanding of many subjects—including those that aren’t covered in a typical school day.

Beginning at 3 p.m., students attend a homework help session, where they can get individualized attention from certified teachers, either from the district or hired by Project MOST, or from Project MOST counselors who attend East Hampton High School. All go through a screening process, Mr. Bryden said.

While snacking on Goldfish crackers and sipping their juice boxes, students can work on math problems, answer critical reading questions, and, if they need help, simply raise their hands.

According to John Marshall Elementary School Principal Beth Doyle, the help is much needed, especially since new Common Core standards have been passed down from the State Education Department.

“We are asking students to be critical thinkers,” she said this week. “The more time they have to engage with the material, the more successful they will be in meeting the demands of the curriculum.”

Third grade teacher Robin Streck, who helps third-graders during the homework hour, said she’s able to see the value of having this time after school. “It’s nice to be in the classroom and have these resources that you can manipulate,” she said. “I can keep an eye on the students, too, since I am helping third-graders. I’m happy to be here. It’s calm and peaceful—that isn’t what happens during the day.”

Mr. Bryden said the idea is to provide academic support and a love for learning in ways that the district necessarily can’t. “We are targeting the areas where they need help,” he said, adding that students who sign up for the program get an additional 540 hours of learning during the school year. “We are the experts in the alternative ways kids learn.”

Project MOST, which has been around since 2000 and became a 501(c)(3) in 2005, has been committed to providing after-school help and activities to students at Springs School and John Marshall for a lower price, according to Mr. Bryden.

With a total budget of about $500,000 a year, it is funded by the state, town, school districts, user fees and private donations.

According to Mr. Bryden, Project MOST is offering homework help, and two hours of additional learning activities through the year for about $400 per student, whereas private tutoring could cost as much as $80 an hour.

For the homework club alone, not including the strictly Project MOST activities that begin at 4 p.m., the district has budgeted $37,000, according to School Board officials. This year, the school board decided to amp up the homework club to make it a more effective program, they said.

Many of the students that take advantage of the after-school program—there are 150 of them at John Marshall and 170 at Springs School—have working parents who may not be able to help their children with their homework—like fifth-grader Edith Rosas. “Project MOST helps me because my parents get home late and they don’t know English,” she said, adding that she has two brothers and two sisters who attend school activities until late in the day.

Not every moment of the after-school program is about homework, however. Instead of just reading about how a plant grows, students who sign up for the Project MOST program are given the chance during one of their activity hours, between 4 and 6 p.m., to work in the school garden, for example.

Fourth-grader Michael Hill said at Project MOST’s summer program, he learned more about where food comes from, and discovered that he really enjoys working in the soil. “I didn’t realize carrots came from the ground,” he said. “I thought they came from a long, plastic baggy.”

Others who want to learn how to swim, for example, can take a swimming course at the East Hampton YMCA just across the street. For those creative types, art classes and story-telling classes are available. The point is to get the students working together to solve problems and give them extra support, Mr. Bryden said.

He said more and more school districts are expanding school hours, because school officials are beginning to see the positive impacts of extra hours of learning and activity.

“It’s a sign of a step forward—the school is recognizing the value in what can happen in the hours from 3 to 6,” he said. “I think we’ve left the baby-sitting label in the dust. We’re addressing the needs of people, and there’s nothing more important than the education of children.”

East Hampton High School Junior Emily Shutz, who helps yoga teacher Heidi Humes after school, said she sees the impact after school can have on kids.

“I know the kids are getting just as much out of it as I am,” she said. “The kids are so excited to go to science and art classes, not to go home and watch TV.”

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