In 2011, North Crawford began an after school program for elementary and junior high school students, called Beyond the Bell. Hoping to supplement learning activities in the classroom with hands-on creative activities and homework help, the program is not now in its fifth year and organizers are happy with the results.
“We have around 115 kids participating right now,” said Amy Allbaugh, the 4K teacher who coordinates the program. “That’s about a third of the elementary school.”
Students in the second through fifth grade make up the majority of participants.
“We have specialized how we group the kids so that there is a 10-to-1 ratio, kids to teacher, and they are grouped according to development,” Allbaugh said. “A second and a fourth grader have different needs. We also rotate them through the spaces separately to help keep things focuses.”
The various teachers working with the program have been instrumental in shaping it, according to Allbaugh.
“They have come up with creative activities that help the kids really understand math and reading concepts without it being just another worksheet,” Allbaugh described. “Lynn Harden, a fifth grade teacher, has had students running a fake concession stand. So, they are developing math skills and she has worked in some nutrition by having then figure out healthy food choices. But, they have to problem solve and figure out how to do this, it’s not someone just telling them what the answers are or how to do it.”
By integrating aspects of play and physical activity, the program hopes to help students develop a better understanding of concepts. The format allows the teachers to be more creative, freeing them up from the daily demands of curriculum they face in the classroom.
Research has linked physical activity during learning to improved academic performance and increased classroom engagement. For individual students, the effects of movement can be profound. Physical movement is linked to the development of executive functions like sequencing, memory, and prioritizing. So more movement often translates into greater self-control for impulsive students.
The elements of play also help engage students more deeply with learning. Play is by its nature is voluntary, self-motivating and active. That makes it an excellent tool for learning. Someone engaged in play is asking questions, reasoning, investigating, comparing, and making connections between what they have known and are currently experiencing.
Beyond the Bell students meet after school Monday through Thursday, with each day themed to a particular topic. They always include a recess, snack, and an opportunity to get help with homework.
Monday activities are math related. Tuesdays are reading. Wednesdays focus on physical education. And Thursdays can offer just about anything - arts and crafts, technology, music, science, social studies or friendship/team building.
Music teacher Holly Roth has been teaching the second and third graders hand drumming, having them listen to rhythm patterns and repeating them and creating responses. Fourth and fifth grade students have been learning to play the guitar and how to care for the instrument.
“This spring, Rob Ghormley will take the kids outside and teach a science of flight with large plane models,” Allbaugh continued.
The program was selected to participate in a NASA project challenge. The students will design projects for going to the moon.
“An example of a project could be designing a project for growing plants that packs down to 10 centimeters but folds out to a meter,” Allbaugh said.
Only ten states were selected to participate in the NASA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Challenge and only five schools in the state of Wisconsin were chosen.
Brandon Munson, the North Crawford Elementary and Junior High School Principal, is currently writing the grant application to get Cycle 2 Funding for the program for the next five years. The grant would be for a lesser amount than the current Cycle 1 Grant of $100,000 per year. He estimated it might be as high as $75,000 per year.
“We have been running a solid program,” said Munson. “I feel really good about it.”
The second cycle is less competitive as it’s focused on keeping programs that met their objectives running. Munson feels that with some rearrangement on transportation and staffing, they can readily maintain the program while cutting costs.
“When we started, we put together a plan for sustainability encompassing the next 10 years,” Munson said.
The school will know by early to mid-spring if they will receive the next cycle of funding.