Program Profile: Lights ON for Learning

The team at Lights ON for Learning, the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) operated by the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education, works year-round to offer high-quality programming and meet the needs of the diverse group of students the program serves. The 21st CCLC serves more than 700 students at its four different sites: Earl Hanson Elementary School (161), John Deere Middle School (261), Glenview Middle School (134), and Moline High School (163). For this issue’s program profile, we asked the program and site leaders to discuss how they are addressing the Illinois State Board of Education’s priorities for the 2016–17 school year.

Attendance

Attendance in the first month of school can be a strong indicator of attendance throughout the rest of year. With so much riding on each student’s ability to make it to school and engage in the curriculum, Teresa Dothard-Campbell, site coordinator at the Glenview Middle School Lights ON for Learning site, knows relationships are a crucial part of student attendance. “In order for students to be successful, you must build relationships,” she says. “It is through those relationships that students begin to understand one of the keys to their success is simply showing up every day.” At the John Deere Middle School, site staff are tapping into interests of at-risk students by integrating high-interest programming with academic assistance. “If a struggling student really likes art, we have an afterschool art program, but only if he or she attends academic CORE for part of the afternoon,” says Chad Potter, the site coordinator at John Deere. “It sounds simple, but all too often we get hung up on what we [adults] want to do to the exclusion of the student interest. In reality, if we build from student interests, problems like attendance never materialize.”

Like many 21st CCLC sites, Earl Hanson Elementary School works with teachers and parents to recruit students for the 21st CCLC. Teachers refer students who will benefit from the program, and the 21st CCLC staff maintain attendance by offering engaging activities like the Inspire Choir, which has been featured on local news broadcasts. The team at Moline High School Lights ON addresses the unique needs and interests of their students by allowing them to recover academic credits during afterschool. While the credit recovery program draws students to the afterschool program, the 21st CCLC also supports increased school day attendance. “A student must attend during the regular school day in order to attend the afterschool program,” says Tammy Murphy-Flynn, the site coordinator at Moline. “They know that it is to their benefit to be here.”

Literacy

Whether students are just learning to read or reading to learn, literacy is a crucial component to success and opportunities later in life. Using technology to improve crucial literacy skills is a common theme shared by all of Lights ON for Learning sites. As Murphy-Flynn notes, the “technology-based [program] allows students to progress at their own rate and level.” Additionally, the sites at John Deere and Glenview middle schools both rely on school day teachers and staff for literacy enrichment, increasing instructional time, and providing continuity for students. The sites also make sure afterschool literacy enrichment incorporates literacy games, technology, and reader’s theatre. “This allows students to receive an extension of the school day instruction in a more relaxed and invigorating manner,” observes Dothard-Campbell. The Lights ON team has also found that partnerships within the community are vital to the program’s success and students’ well being. Both middle school sites have partnered with local libraries, museums, daycare centers, and even a grocery store to enhance literacy activities. Activities that aren’t explicitly for academic enrichment can also improve students’ literacy skills. The team at Earl Hanson Elementary School notes that their Inspire Choir has given students an opportunity to practice reading in a fun environment and helped English language learners improve their language skills.

College and Career Readiness

When focusing on college and career readiness, staff from Lights ON for Learning take advantage of the 21st CCLC program’s unique traits. Administrators and staff agree that the 21st CCLC program gives them a chance to work with students in smaller groups, tapping into their interests and allowing that to guide opportunities for the future. To help students learn about higher education, the program has a partnership with Western Illinois University, which has benefitted students from both the university and the 21st CCLC: younger students open their eyes to the possibilities of higher education, while graduate interns get hands-on experience counseling potential first-generation college students. The flexibility of the afterschool environment allows the 21st CCLC sites to change directions quickly and continue adapting to address students’ interests and academic needs.

Health and Wellness

The health and wellness of students has broad-reaching consequences. Each site selects health and wellness programming that addresses the needs of the students they serve. At John Deere Middle School, for example, a community partnership led to the development of a dating and relationship program that covers sex education and abstinence topics, as well as pop culture and Internet-related issues. The other sites offer fitness activities after school or during the summer program. “Our children live in a society of technology,” says Dothard-Campbell, noting its contribution to a sedentary lifestyle. “We try to encourage another option of enjoyment by offering basketball workshops, cheerleading camps, CPR classes, etc., as a way for them to understand the importance of caring for their bodies while they are young.”

Ultimately, a program’s success depends on how well it is supported in the larger school environment. Programs that describe a seamless interaction between the afterschool program and the school day have positive outcomes for students. To that end, communication and collaboration are key to the success of all four sites. “Our staff go beyond the call of duty to help ensure the student’s success,” shares Dothard-Campbell. "Our program is fabulous, yet firm to ensure all students are safe and engaged. There are not enough words to describe the feeling of a parent sharing their child’s success story with you because of the afterschool programming, or watching a child’s eyes light up when they realize they are at the end of the quarter and their hard work has paid off. Those moments are priceless!”

For further information about the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education and their four 21st CCLC sites, contact Regional Superintendent. Tammy Muerhoff at tammy.muerhoff@riroe.com.