New program available for Twin Bridges students

Twin Bridges Schools’ officials and staff wasted no time in initiating their 21st Century Community Learning Center program after being notified of receiving the grant award in mid-June.

“We had basically a month to get most of the pieces in place,” Superintendent Chad Johnson said. “These two weeks of the summer program are really about getting our feet wet as we prepare for after-school and a full summer program next year.”

The Twin Bridges CCLC aims to incorporate the family and the community into the educational process of the students, with focus on bridging such relationships while incorporating the Montana Common Core and STEM principals in a hands-on, life-experience, fun and educational manner.

Projects for CCLCs range from character education, drug and violence prevention, expanded library hours, recreational activities, tutoring services, arts and music education, and more. Lunch is provided during the summer and snacks during the after-school program the rest of the year.

About two-dozen children gathered in the home-ec room last Wednesday, the third day of the program in Twin Bridges. The four groups – incoming kindergarteners, grades 2-3, first graders, and grades 4-6 – sat patiently while program director Michelle Head and para-educator Shelley Tilstra passed out materials for that morning’s activities. The youngest group practiced writing the alphabet while the others worked on fractions, poems and independent reading.

“It’s project based,” Head said. Students were polled the day before on their favorite flavor of ice cream. The poll results were used to create a graph. Ice cream poems and crafts were also created.

Once the kids caught up on their projects and assignments from earlier in the week, the day was geared toward bike safety, which was evident from the chatter about Barbie bikes, protective pads and popped tires.

More than 16,000 students were served by the state’s 79 CCLCs last year, according to Office of Public Instruction’s Educational Program Representative, Mary Ellen Earnhardt.

“Research shows that kids who do not have these opportunities decline in academic growth,” Earnhardt said. “It’s a good thing and helps communities. It’s made such an impact on kids.”

Head said she has a lot to learn about the program but is hopeful about its future. She was ready to start right away this summer because the children needed it. Johnson agrees that there is a fairly steep learning curve. He believes Head was the right choice to guide the new program. Head served as one of the grant writers and her knowledge of the program, the application process and the ultimate vision of where it may go were evident from the beginning, according to Johnson. Also involved in the grant writing process were Aaron Griffin, Jamie Reynolds and Mary Beth Walsh.

Johnson said the application process took about 100 hours and included much of the preparation for the program. He had previous knowledge of the grant from his work in a different school district.

“It has always been on our radar, but this was the first year Twin Bridges Schools actually met the qualification standards,” Johnson said. “Recently, we have been struggling with developing an after-school program that continues to put the focus on academics, community and family. This is just the opportunity.”

State education officials apply for the federal grant and then schools apply for sub-grants from the state. Other local organizations are also able to apply for sub-grants. To be eligible, schools have to have a 40-percent free and reduced lunch rate. Sheridan Elementary and Ennis K-12 were grantees in 2010.

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