A student works on math problems.

Days in elementary school classrooms are usually a flurry of activity, as teachers move students through different subjects, trying to fit in the required rigorous curriculum and a little occasional fun.

Given the pace, some students don’t always have time to finish assignments in class, and teachers do not always have time to stop and help each student, one-on-one, who needs individual help.

Test taking is hard and third grade is students’ first big year doing that, too.

That is where the afterschool AIR program comes in.  AIR stands for Academic Improvement Room, and while the program can be for students who need extra help the most, it also helps those students who simply need extensions to finish assignments, letting them catch up.

Seven teachers, along with paras and support staff commit to staying after school at Garfield to provide that added time and resources some students need. In all, more than 60 students currently take advantage of the program, third grade teacher Schuyler Keal said.

“It’s basically extra time to help them catch up on goals they want to meet, like IXL, which is a program that we use on the iPads. It might be AR an Accelerated Reading program we use,” Keal said. 

Title I teacher Robin

McCleary said in the after school environment, there is less stress than in the regular classroom, which is a big benefit to some students. One of the main focuses of the afterschool program is helping instill confidence in the students that they are capable and can achieve, and the after school environment provides that.

“They get one-on-one attention.  We can celebrate successes. We get to do that in here on a large scale. We’re like a little family.  They are learning to work together. We can provide all the extra things we know are going to help and they have extra time to practice the skills,” McCleary said.

Federal ESSER funds have allowed Garfield to expand the AIR program this year.  In the last ESSER grant cycle, it was required 20% of the funding be devoted specifically to helping close the learning gap exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The learning loss gap students experienced was significant in some areas, Garfield Principal Barney Pontious said. The students in third grade now were students more highly impacted in their formative years when they were really learning to read, and learning the number sense that kind of carries them through the academic content that they learn in second and third grade.

“So for our age group right now it really is super critical that we address that learning loss and this is one way that we can target that,” Pontious said.  “That’s the purpose of the funding, so it is a good thing we can directly apply that funding. …That’s been the beauty of the extra funding is we can impact more kids instead of just our 3, to 4, to 5% of our highest need kids. We have about 60 so we have about one-third of our building staying roughly for an extra hour of school. That’s a pretty good sign culturally and for our targets.”

Data shows students at Garfield School are benefitting academically from the afterschool enrichment program. State assessment results the last couple of years have shown Garfield students are making strides.

“Last year our scores were above the state average in reading and in math in third grade ,” Keal said.

“When we have positive growth, we have certain programs that we use at Garfield that we imagine lead to that growth. This would be part of it,” McCleary said.

Summer school also provides lots of focus on reading through AR, and promoting more rounded academic growth with Study Island, because that has reading and math in it.

“I do know the extra time after school makes a difference. Do we have data to prove it? Absolutely. We can see student growth using our old MAPP scores and now that we moved to Fastbridge we will be able to show that in the next couple of years,” McCleary said. “Just looking at our initial middle of the year scores, we started Monday, it looks like lots of kids are making great gains from where they were at the beginning of the year. I love to see that.”

Pontious said the fact that they have 60 families that are willing to allow their students to attend an extra hour of school to add to their academic growth is outstanding.

“It shows the support that we get here at Garfield,” he said.

He commended Garfield staff who are willing to stay the extra hour.

“That is also something we are really proud of. It’s not something you can get every day. I’ve done afterschool programs at other places and it’s sometimes tough to staff them and we are really proud of our staff for taking that leap and being there for their kids,” Pontious said.

He also commended the district’s support of the AIR program.

“We’re really lucky this year to have the district support of the extra federal funds to provide that after school program in the scope that we do,” he said. “It really is kind of a secret weapon to achieve student growth and to do well on our achievement tests and things like that. It’s nice at the end of the day, even as I’m winding down, to be able to walk the hallways and visit classrooms and see kids still at work.

“Mrs. McCleary does an excellent job of setting out rigorous planning and goals, kind of templates for each teacher and staff member that has a group. It’s just an all-around positive thing. The kids are still happy when they leave. None of them feel like they are forced to be here,” Pontious said. “They do some pretty rigorous stuff, but it is definitely worthwhile.”

Garfield is traditionally a high achieving school. That’s something Pontious said they don’t want to see change.

“With the students we have coming up and the thought of not having the additional funding it’s definitely something we look at and appreciate the ability to do so now, but also we look at how viable is it into the future to keep that scope and size in place,” Pontious said. “I do know the district feels strongly about learning loss and academic support, so they traditionally, and currently, are highly supportive of any efforts that show positive impacts for students, so if we continue to get district support, we’d love to keep the scope of the program as close as possible. But,  we are also realistic and know that when the so called ESSER cliff hits

us a little bit, we will have maybe a little bit of redesign element there.”

Pontious said there are other are grant programs out there that we are looking at possibly pursuing to replace some of the funding they will definitely be losing in the near future for their afterschool program, but those grants are yet to be determined.

“So, we’ll cross our fingers and do the best work we can and keep looking for sources, along with that district level support, because our district does an outstanding job of putting our funds where they need to be,” Pontious said. “They are good stewards of our taxpayer dollars and they really do try to put them in the places that are most impactful. Our goal is to show how impactful the program is, so we hope we don’t have to worry too much about the financial part of it.  We show the impact, we show the growth, we show the achievement, and the district will always make the right decision. They do the best that they can for us.”