February 17, 2010 in City

Beyond the classroom

Program helps high-schoolers after the bell rings
By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

North Central High School senior Joana Cisneros, 17, works on a math tutorial after school on Feb. 9. Through a grant, North Central and Rogers high schools have opened an after-school program that focuses on academic, social, career and emotional assistance for students.
(Full-size photo)

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Graduating in June seemed nearly impossible to 17-year-old Joana Cisneros.

The North Central High School student failed math last year, she said. And the online class she was taking to make it up wasn’t working out.

A new after-school program that began last month has given her hope.

“I don’t know what I would have done without it,” she said.

Spokane Public Schools identified Rogers and North Central high schools to receive the federal 21st Century grant – about $400,000 annually for five years, said Greg Maddigan, grant coordinator. The schools’ locations – in two of the poorest ZIP codes in Washington – and high number of students needing to improve math and reading assessment scores helped them secure the grants.

The 21st Century grants are most commonly directed toward after-school programs.

The new program includes tutoring in a variety of subjects, career assessments and services, said Wendy Bleecker, Spokane Public Schools’ director of student services. Mental health and drug and alcohol professionals also were hired to work with the kids.

“We have not ever had a comprehensive after-school model at the high school level that includes academic, career, social and emotional,” Bleecker said. “Our programs generally focus on activities or sports along with tutoring. We may be laying a pathway for other high schools.”

The after-school program runs from 2:45 to 5 p.m. three days a week. If Cisneros sticks with it until May, she’ll be able to graduate with her classmates, she said.

At North Central, participating students are divided into groups focusing on different topic areas, such as science or math.

A sign saying “Night School” hung on the classroom door where a group of students had gathered to research colleges and scholarships or work on English and technology credits.

“I don’t have a computer at home, and the longer I can be at school the better,” said Rayan Orbom, a senior at North Central. The 17-year-old is making up a computer science credit and was researching scholarships for college.

“You get a lot of one-on-one with teachers. In class that doesn’t happen on a regular basis,” she said. “We also write down our goals, which hold us more accountable.”

The national dropout rate has spurred the federal government to action, Bleecker said. “The feds are putting a focus on after-school activities as intervention – a secondary intervention.”

The national graduation rate is about 71 percent, according to various studies.

Spokane Public Schools currently has a graduation rate of about 60 percent, officials say. Each year, the program is expected to help at least 200 students, many of whom are trying to make up credits in order to graduate on time or to get extra help.

“Once a student fails a class, they are credit deficient, and they lose hope,” Maddigan said. “This really helps. It’s a great opportunity to help our students out.”

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